Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What's Baking? April

This month's "What's Baking" challenge was hosted by Leanne at Food, Fun and Love and the theme was Spring. Of course, I waited until the last minute, but when I saw a recipe online mentioning lavender, I knew that it would be my "secret" ingredient. There are a lot of different recipes with lavender out there, but I wanted something that would actually be eaten, so I went with Lavender Honey Shortbread Cookies.

They're definitely a departure from other cookies I love (which usually involve lots of chocolate and/or peanut butter) but I was really impressed with the springy, floral flavor and buttery consistency. They're not too sweet and would be great for breakfast with a cup of coffee or chai tea. Give these little guys a try!

Lavender Honey Shortbread Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp lavender
6 oz. butter (1 1/2 sticks)
2 tbsp honey
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine flour, salt, baking powder and lavender in bowl and stir to combine.

In an electric mixer, cream together butter, honey, powdered sugar and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined.

Pour the mixture onto parchment paper, roll into a log, and place in the refrigerator to chill until set (about an hour). When you're ready to bake, just slice off the cookies you want, sprinkle with sugar, and bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Holidays and Holy Days

Saying that the last few weeks have been busy would be a huge understatement. Between starting a new job, David's birthday, Easter and our anniversary, we have had a lot on our plates. On top of all that, we have been cooking up a storm and took a weekend trip to visit David's dad's hometown of Wilmington, NC for the annual Azalea festival.

Most recently (today!) we celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary. It is really amazing to me that we have been married for two years, especially when you consider all that we've done and everywhere we've been. The past year was so much fun and I am honored to have been able to spend it with my very best friend, who also happens to be an incredible husband. In honor of....something (I'm going to pretend like it was the sweet last year we've had together...or what a sweet wife I am), he made homemade ice cream sandwiches today. Actually, I think he was just bored but they look (and taste) deeeelicious.

AND...speaking of incredible husbands, yesterday was his 24th birthday! Hooray! I love a good birthday, so we went out to dinner at Local Roots on Saturday night to celebrate. The restaurant came highly recommended and we have passed it a few times, so we were excited to try it out. Unfortunately, it was a huge disappointment. The actual restaurant is adorable and the menu is descriptive but the food was overpriced and under-flavored. I'm not opposed to spending good money for good food, especially when it's local, but there was nothing good about our experience. Our waitress was rude, and most of David's food was inedible. We brought his leftovers home to give to the dogs and were given a free dessert, but it was unimpressive as well.

We had big plans to go out for lunch after church on Sunday but were so turned off by restaurants after Saturday night's fiasco that we just decided to make lunch at home. David's dad grilled bbq chicken and we made roasted vegetables, grilled asparagus, salads, and Pioneer Woman's macaroni and cheese. After a mid-afternoon walk, we had an old standby-favorite for dessert: Vintage Victual's strawberry shortcake. This stuff is easy and never disappoints as an amazing dessert.  Luckily, our Easter lunch was a million times better than dinner at Local Roots and a fraction of the price. And the best part? We still have a ton of leftovers :)

Yesterday was also, of course, Easter. I think it may be my favorite holiday - I love celebrating the cornerstone of my faith, and I love that it is almost always a beautiful springy day and that kids wear the most adorable outfits to church. We went to the church that David grew up going to (and where his parents were married!) for one of the most angry Easter sermons I've ever heard, but a poorly delivered sermon doesn't change the principle of the day. Jesus rose from the grave, and I can't help but be excited when I think about what that really means. As a Christian, that makes death totally meaningless, and is a wonderful reminder that life here on earth is fleeting in light of the eternity that we are promised. Hooray!

On a lighter note, work is still going well (and sometimes feels like eternity. Ha!) - I love the people I work with, and am starting to get a better understanding of what exactly I'm doing there. It has also made me a lot more excited about running and I've learned a ton about feet and running and hydration and pronation and suppination and arches and bunions and all kinds of things I never thought I'd care about. 

Having a full time job has kicked my butt - going from 0 hours of work a week to 40 (and sometimes more) has been a big adjustment. We took a break from my first week to take a vacation to Wilmington with David's dad, where he grew up, and meet some of his family. The weekend also happened to be the North Carolina Azalea Festival, which was quite the people-watching adventure. I think festivals really bring out the best (...) in people, so we captured a few of these people. If you are one of the people in these pictures, I'd apologize but I think you should be apologizing to me, the great state of North Carolina, and yourself.

We participated in a little gluttony of our own at the Trolly Stop . I'm not a huge hotdog fan usually, but this place screamed local so we couldn't resist. Plus, all the bloomin' onions and funnel cakes had us craving junk food.

So that's pretty much all that we've been celebrating....and eating. David is on spring break this week and I have the day off work tomorrow, so I am looking forward to spending the day with him and actually getting to celebrate our anniversary. Hoppy Easter to all!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Big Days Call for Bakin'

Today started out like any other. Scratch that, David got called in to work, so he was up at the crack of dawn and I was too. After a long night of discussing life and our plans, we were both operating on minimal sleep, so I just got up with him. I usually help him make his lunch but this morning I got fancy with a can of Pilsbury biscuits that I found in the fridge.

I made donuts.

David's family has a deep fryer that they never use, so I got it out and put it to work. The dough was pretty old, so it probably didn't hold together as well as it could have, but overall I'm pretty pleased with the results. There are a lot of options for topping them (we tried one with cinnamon/sugar), but everyone knows that plain glazed donuts are the best.

Once I got the whole family off to work/school, I got down to business: I got my first big girl, full-time job!

The quick backstory is that I was looking for a part-time job to get out of the house while we waited on the Peace Corps to give us the where/when of our assignment. David's dad, Don, got an email about a part time job at Fleet Feet Roanoke and thought it would be a good fit for me, so I went in last week to talk about it with them. To make a long story short, I'll be working full-time and doing their marketing and couldn't be more excited. The owners are great and the concept of the store is great. I'm jumping right in this week with one of their biggest events of the year, Diva Night. Hooray!

The weather was also finally halfway decent (okay, it was hot) today, so David took the opportunity to grill out hamburgers. I was feeling adventurous, so I offered to make the buns. Oy vei. We used the bread machine to mix up the dough (because I'm over kneading) and tried both a cookie cutter and a (drinking) glass to cut out the circles. David's burgers were pretty enormous so we used the bigger buns and just ate the smaller ones.

I had no idea what to do with the leftover dough (because it doesn't really mold back together like cookie dough) so I tried to make more buns and pretzels. Since it had been re-kneaded and rolled a few times, it was pretty dense and ended with more of a biscuit-like texture. Definitely still edible but I need some better ideas for the extra dough. Any thoughts? 

Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

I've been a part of the Daring Bakers for a while now, but since we've been bouncing around the world, I haven't had a chance to participate...yet. The March 2011 Daring Bakers' Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria's Collection and Jamie of Life's a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged the Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake. I am obviously really late posting this but enjoyed making the cake. I was worried about how it would turn out, since it was pretty technical but we were all very pleased with the results and had our fair share before sending it to school with David's mom to share with the other teachers.

It didn't turn out as pretty as some of the others I've seen but that's not too important - the whole point is to eat it anyways! 

The recipe was definitely worth the effort and could be adjusted to use just about any ingredients or flavors you want. I used Jamie's version (below) but would like to try a savory filling next time - maybe with pizza-like ingredients and Italian seasoning in the dough.

The recipe below makes 2 round coffee cakes, each approximately 10 inches in diameter. I havlved it to make1 cake, but if you are doing all the work, you may as well make 2!

Filled Meringue Coffee Cake
For the Dough:
4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 package active dried yeast
3/4 cup whole milk *I used 2% without any problems
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the Meringue:
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar

For the Filling:
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the sugar, salt and yeast.

In a saucepan, combine the milk, water and butter and heat over medium until warm. 

With an electric mixer on low speed, gradually add the warm liquid to the flour/yeast mixture, beating until just blended. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes. Add the eggs and 1 cup flour and beat for 2 more minutes. 

Using a wooden spoon, stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a dough that holds together. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead the dough for 8-10 minutes, or until it is soft, smooth and elastic, keeping the work surface floured and adding extra flour as needed.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover the bowl  with plastic wrap and a kitchen towl and let rise until doubled in bulk, 45-60 minutes.

Prepare the filling. In a smal bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar. 

Once the dough has doubled, make the meringue:
In a clean mixing bowl (ideally plastic or metal), beat the egg whites with the salt, first on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high and continue beating until foamy and opaque. Add the vanilla then start adding the 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 tbsp at a time, until very stiff, glossy peaks form.

Assemble the coffee cakes:
Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Punch down the dough and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, working one piece of the dough at a time, roll out into a 20 x 10-inch rectangle. Spread half of the meringue evenly over the rectangle. Sprinkle half of the filling over the dough.

Roll the dough jellyroll-style, from the long side. Pinch the seam closed to seal. Very carefully transfer the filled log to one of the lined cookie sheets, seam-side down. Bring the ends of the log around and seal the ends together, forming a ring, tucking one end into the other and pinching to seal.

Use kitchen shears or a sharp knife, make cuts along the outside edge at 1-inch intervals. Repeat with the remaining dough, meringue and fillings.

Cover the 2 coffee cakes with plastic wrap and allow them to rise again for 45-60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Brush the tops of the coffee cakes with the egg wash. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until risen and golden brown. The dough should sound hollow when tapped.

Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheets onto the table. Very gently loosen the coffee cakes from the paper with a large spatula and carefully slide the cakes off onto cooling racks. Allow to cool.

Just before serving, dust the tops of the coffee cakes with confectioner's sugar and cocoa powder, if desired.


Sunday, April 3, 2011


Pretty much every day I think about writing a blog. And sometimes I even start. But then I realize that there is just too much to try to write about since the last post. So I stop.

The problem with that is that every day that I don't write, more exciting things happen. But I can't write about them because I'm already behind. So it snowballs.

Anyways, I'm done with that. Just know that a LOT has happened in the past few weeks. We visited my parents  in Athens and spent a few days with the Mitchells in Atlanta. One of the best things about Athens was seeing Meredith, who drove up from Albany just to play with us. It was so great to reconnect with her again - it's easy to forget how fun your friends are when life gets busy, but refreshing to realize that some relationships survive the distance and pick right back up where you left them.

We left Athens and drove to Virginia to spend some time with David's family while we wait on the final word from the Peace Corps. We are eagerly anticipating their invitation (and location!) and then will make a decision on our next steps. Originally, they mentioned Asia, so if you want to get some karma points today, say a little prayer that we are asked to go somewhere warm :)

Speaking of warm - Virginia is not. It has snowed and hailed and rained here but is finally supposed to hit 80 tomorrow. I've been baking up a storm (stay tuned for food posts!) and we spent last weekend in Annapolis while David's brother spent a weekend at the Naval Academy.

There's lots more fun to be had, and lots more blogs to write as we play in the V-A!