where i've been.

I've missed this place. I've missed the smirking little girl up at the top of the page there, the one with the mixing bowl and freckled cheeks. I've missed cooking, and I've missed hearing from you, dear readers.

Since it's been just shy of two whole months since my last post, I'll just get right to it. I'm a little pregnant. We're due in April, and no one was more surprised than me. And while some bloggers seem to chug happily along, posting the standard cinnamon-bun-in-the-oven recipes to announce their pregnancies, I have been down for the count. I wish I had more to share, but I've been on a steady diet of cereal and toast for the past twelve weeks and frankly, the very thought of stirring a pot sends me running for the facilities to hug my new BFF, Mr. Toilet.

I'm praying things are on the upswing, but between graduate school, a new job, married life, and worrying if my lunch will come up any second, there hasn't been much time for brownies. I think that's the worst.

Be back soon. Promise.


almond torte with sugared apricots.

Fruit and I have come a long way. I used to stuff myself silly with every kind of peach, plum, and apple I could get my hands on, nothing was off limits. So it was a terrible surprise when one day, in between fifth and sixth grade, a red apple turned against me.

We had just moved to a new town and my parents took me and my siblings on a picnic at a local park to blow off some steam before the school year started. There were a few rusted out swingsets and an oversized Coca-Cola can you could crawl through, although that's only entertaining for so long. I think we had sandwiches or some other picnic fare, but I can't remember exactly. It's all been blocked out by that terrible episode of The Apple.

My Dad packed a tub of caramel dipping sauce for our apple slices, and when it was time to eat, I didn't waste a minute. I ate half an apple worth of slices before taking off for the slide again, but by the time I reached the top of the ladder, my lips were tingling. I chewed on them a bit, thinking it was nothing, but it got worse. Within a few minutes, my tongue, cheeks and gums were all itchy and swollen, and we didn't know why.

Through a few rounds of trial an error (a horrible reaction to some peaches at my friend Natalie's house was the clincher), my allergist diagnosed me with a fruit allergy, and the only thing I could have for years was watermelon. Anything else and I swelled up like a balloon. It was really ridiculous, I had to carry an Epi-Pen around school and the nurse called me down to her office to see if I needed specially made lunches. I mumbled something like, "I'll just pack, thanks..." and walked sheepishly back to class.

Over the years, it has gotten better. I still can't eat apples, and I still react to some fruits, but apricots are back from the Dark Side. Just touching them to my lips 5 years ago would've made me look like a puffer fish, but they've since apologized and begged to come back. I'm starting small with this apricot torte, and I think apricots and I are back on track to being fine friends again.

First, you blitz a handful of almonds into a powder, perhaps leaving a few crunchy bits in there because you are lazy or just enjoy your cake batter studded with almonds. Then you whip up a quick and dirty batter with your standard butter, eggs, sugar and flour and top the whole thing off with a ring of halved apricots, bright orange and juicy. Now, because apricots tend to be on the mouth-puckering side of the fruit spectrum, it would serve you well to sprinkle a bit of sugar over the tops before sliding it into the oven to bake. Once it gets going, it perfumes your whole house with the scent of toasted almonds and blistering fruit, the sort of fragrance that forces you to walk in and out of the house just to have it register in your senses again. Once it's ready, the top crackles and shatters in spots and some apricots nestle down beneath the surface of the cake (a welcome surprise upon slicing). The few wedges of fruit that stuck around will fill with a little puddle of apricot juice and you might be sorely tempted to scoop them out with a spoon and forgo the cake altogether.

But don't. Let it cool ever so slightly, pour yourself a cuppa, and call it breakfast.

Almond Torte with Sugared Apricots
Adapted from Orangette & Marion Burros

1/3 cup finely ground almonds
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

For topping:
6 ripe apricots, halved and pitted
1-2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the almonds until they are finely ground. Don't worry about overdoing it, I let mine whirl for a good while with no sign of almond butter in sight.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and salt.

In the food processor, pulse together the butter, sugar and eggs until just combined. Add in the dry ingredients and mix in short bursts until the flour just barely disappears. Scoop the batter into a 9-inch spring-form pan and spread it evenly with an offset spatula.

Arrange the apricot halves evenly across the top of the batter and sprinkle with sugar (1 tablespoon if they are plenty sweet, or 2 tablespoons if they need a little boost. I find most apricots are fairly sour, so I used two).

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the top is a bit crackly and golden brown. Cool for about 15 minutes before serving.


summer succotash.

I haven't spent nearly as much time in the kitchen this summer as I'd hoped. That sounds awfully backwards given that this summer was one of the hottest to date and no person in their right mind would want to spend it next to the hot stove, but I can't help but feel I missed something along the way.

Perhaps it was the adjustment of married life that swallowed up the time, or that our house insisted on being an absolute nuisance more often than not, or that I found myself slurping up bowls of cereal for dinner (save for the tomato + fried bread which was positively divine) while my darling husband was out policing the streets, but I have that sort of hollow feeling in my belly. Do you ever get that? That strange sensation that you've forgotten something? I think, for me, it was the kitchen.

Now I know I must sound awfully melancholy and you might be thinking, "C'mon, Britt! You've still got a good chunk of summer left! Think of the tomatoes! The pie! Think of Arnold Palmer!" And oh, I suppose you might be right. But now that I am scheduled for a return to graduate school (I do hope I am not completely rusty after a semester's vacation), there's that sinking feeling floating just below my ribcage. I miss my free time already. I ought to buck up, really, I should. It's just that I spent the first half of my summer battling with that same graduate school after I ended up with a professor whose vacation was interrupted by his obligation to teach the class. Honestly.

It's possible you're wondering what on earth any of that has to do with succotash. You might even be sitting there, jaw squared and lip nearly curled, thinking of how much you hate succotash. The first time I ever had succotash, it was at an old boyfriend's grandmother's house for dinner. She made Swiss steak, mashed potatoes and succotash - better known as a humble mixture of corn and lima beans. I didn't see the hype at first, but with a little salt and a nub of sweet butter, it wasn't so bad.

But this is hardly succotash at all. It starts with a bit of bacon (or country ham in our case), then you toss in a few handful of juicy tomatoes, garlic, and onion right into the bacon fat. It will sizzle and pop and hiss for a moment or two and while you listen, you can spend a few moments cleaning up the rogue corn kernels that have bounced all over your floor like pearls from a broken necklace.

Once all the vegetables are cooked but still a bit toothsome, you mix in a good bunch of arugula and fresh basil, perhaps a cup of brown rice or chewy farro to round it out (one! bowl! meal!). We ate on the back porch with a tall glass of sweet tea and a fluffy cloud of Parmesan cheese while the sun sank down. And that's what I'll miss about the summer: No lingering thoughts of homework to be done, the clinking of silverware against a bowl on the porch, a bottomless pitcher of iced tea, and perhaps even a bowl of this succotash.

Adapted from Gourmet.


everyday chocolate cake.

My Dad is a difficult man. You know my Dad, right? The one who is obsessed with lemon cookies, who gives a tiny fist pump at the table when dinner is especially nice, the guy who accuses me of adding "nuts and bolts" to a dish whenever he thinks there is too much going on - that's him.

He is especially fussy about dessert. Those lemon cookies I was telling you about? I'm sorry I ever made them. Seriously. At least once a week I get a text message from him (it usually reads something like: Britt I need lmn cks sugr shards pls when can u have them?) asking where the next batch is, and each time I tell him that I am sick to death of those cookies and I can't help him. Then I make a batch for him anyway.

He's especially tricky post-dinner, about the time the dishes are piled in the sink and we're all sitting on my back porch watching the dog chase an invisible ball (if you play fetch in the dark, he has no idea you're not throwing anything - brilliant!), he'll ask. I can almost predict it to the minute. We're all happily digesting and he'll shoot me a sideways glance and ask, "You got anything for dessert?"

And being me, of course, I have a kitchen full of sugary confections, but it's in his nature to be especially choosy. I'll offer a scoop of ice cream, perhaps a brownie, a slice of zucchini bread leftover from the Sunday before - but no. He'll continue nagging until I finally wave the white flag of surrender and he'll say, "You got like a chocolate cake or somethin'?" After one too many awkward situations involving back porch sittin' and a lack of chocolate cake, I started preparing ahead of time.

If you have ever found yourself in a similar circumstance, or perhaps your father is equally charming, or maybe you just need a good recipe for a no-fuss chocolate cake to whip out at any given moment, then this is for you. It's a humble looking loaf that packs an anything-but-modest chocolate flavor, a texture that I daresay borders on fudginess, and with a quick dusting of powdered sugar, you can put it on a fancy plate and call it dessert. BTW, I've started to "bake" this is my new pressure cooker.....sounds crazy, but I'm mad in love with this thing :) I got mine from pressurecookerpros.com - best pressure cookers...check them out.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen & Magnolia Bakery.


homemade peach ice cream.

When it's smoldering hot outside, the kind of hot that makes sweat beads pop up on your forehead just walking to get the mail, the kind that makes you lay on top the air vents and suck ice cubes, the kind that seems so relentless even at ten in the evening and the air is still thick as mud, that awful sort of heat that you trudged through on your nightly jog only to have your puppy decide he's had enough during the last quarter mile and refuse to lift his paws another step so you carry him home instead, then it's time to make peach ice cream.

I don't use my ice cream machine nearly enough, and I blame it on the mechanics of it. It's one of those fancy numbers that require no rock salt or manual labor, but instead a canister that takes a full twenty-four hours to freeze before you can use it. If you've been reading this blog for even a little while, you know that most of my baking happens on impulse - a sudden craving, a late night baking spell - so when the idea for ice cream tickles my tummy, it's quickly diminished by the realization I still haven't put the canister in the freezer and by the time it's ready to churn the desire for ice cream has completely escaped me. I'm a little flaky that way.

But this? This I planned for. I was waiting on a few doughnut peaches to ripen on the counter, patiently preparing for their day to take a swim through frozen cream. They took forever. For-ev-er. And sadly, they weren't even that good. Really. They are fun to look at and it's super fun to say "doughnut peach," but really, they have no flavor. Thankfully, I was redeemed by a lone Eastern peach that was going soft with ripeness, so I tossed that in with the doughnuts and got on my way. (So if you have the choice, go with traditional, sweet-smelling peaches that are starting to squish in spots - they truly make the best ice cream).

This recipe has the addition of sour cream, something I thought was a bit strange and my mother balked at when I told her what was in it. But really, it was quite lovely. It cuts the sweetness of the peaches just a bit and offsets the richness of the heavy cream just enough to allow for a second scoop. The original recipe doesn't call for the addition of chopped peach to be added, but when I saw the instruction to puree the whole batch, my heart sank a little. Half the joy of eating peach ice cream is the icy slivers of real peach woven throughout, am I right or am I right?

Of course I'm right. Now get on it.

Adapted from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz.