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2014 Recap + favorites

Often I ring in the New Year with a celebratory beverage or breakfast recipe. Not this year. After the past few weeks of cooking and baking, I am taking it easy to start off 2015.

Most people do reflection posts at the end of the year, not on New Year’s Day. However, I couldn’t reflect while I was in the midst of marathon baking, and besides, I can’t plan that far in advance during the month of December. This means I have to reflect in January. It was on January 1 of last year that I asserted my resolution for 2014 – to make 50 different bread recipes during the year: 1 per week, with a few weeks off for good measure. I came up with guidelines and largely stuck with them. During the first half of the year, too, I had a good schedule; I posted a bread recipe every week, mostly on Wednesdays, and then posted something not-bread on the weekends. I loved having that schedule, and felt like I was making both good bread and good progress.

During mid-year, early in my pregnancy when I was very tired (2-3 hour naps on Saturdays and Sundays = very awesome, but not great for baking) and a little stressed out from the intensity and volume of work at work, I gave myself a little time off. I’m not disappointed that I did, but I did lose the rhythm that I’d developed. I wasn’t thrilled with my progress when autumn came around, but I wasn’t behind. But once Alex got this job in New Jersey and it was clear we would move, I had to cut back. How could I keep making bread when I knew I had to pack and move an entire house, train a replacement at work, find a doctor in NJ ASAP, and deal with all the other hassles that came with moving?

I’m still very proud of myself that I made my goal of 50 bread recipes, even if I had to make it up at the end. I made 12 of the breads in December – not bad, if I say so myself?

Did I get out of it what I wanted? Yes and no. I made lots of delicious recipes, and even taught myself a few new things. However, I was not always as mindful of what I was doing as I hoped to be. Sometimes I made recipes just to make things (which I hate doing), and sometimes my breads and posts were uninspired. Sometimes it was difficult to find bread that I was super-excited about each weekend.

As I looked through The Bread Baker’s Apprentice last weekend, it was clear that there were still more bread recipes that I wanted to make. So I’m not going to give up bread-making just yet. I expect to still make a few more things in January. But my primary goal for 2015 is to survive becoming a new parent with my sanity intact – and hopefully continue to post a few new recipes even after baby makes her appearance.

Last week I was asked if I had any favorite recipes that I’d made. I wasn’t sure at the time. Looking at the year in review, I’ve listed a few of my favorites below.

*****

Hands down, my favorite was the Lazy Pizza Dough from Smitten Kitchen. Since first making that dough in July, I made pizza at least half a dozen times before we moved in October, just because I didn’t feel like doing anything else for dinner. You should make this.

This morning, we started out the day right with the Maple Bacon Biscuits that I froze earlier this week. I highly recommend that recipe, as they were easy to make and were just about everything I could want in a biscuit.

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Swirl Bread is a loaf of bread that I sometimes forget about, but it’s really very good (and healthy, too). Other favorite loaves include Yeasted Banana Sandwich Bread and a new favorite, Multigrain Bread Extraordinare.

For rustic bread, the Pain a l’Ancienne was both easy and very delicious.

The Monkey Bread I made was still really pretty good. I also think that the Cinnamon Rolls I made recently will be amazing with the adjustments I added to the recipe (but haven’t had the time to try out). Also talking about cinnamon – Cinnamon Bread is still one of my old favorites, and is super-simple in that it is a quick bread and contains NO YEAST.

Chocolate Chip Cookie-filled Pretzels were probably the most different thing I tried this year. Croissants were the most difficult technique-wise. I’m very glad that I tried both!

Overnight Citrus-Ginger Ring

It’s now mid-March, and as I hope for spring, I realize that I didn’t take full advantage of winter’s cold weather. Why didn’t I bake more bread during the last few months? I love bread-making! Luckily, it’s not too late for me to bake, since March is just as likely to be cold (high of 39F today) as it is to be warm (high of 72F on Friday, just two days ago).

This weekend I decided to make an Overnight Citrus Ginger Ring. It is serendipitously flavored like spring, with bright flavors of lemon and ginger. I wasn’t sure that I would have a chance to get it started on Friday night, but I was able to leave work early, which gave me the extra time I needed in an evening otherwise not spent at home.

The basic process of making this ring: make dough one evening, and let rise 2-3 hours; shape dough with filling; refrigerate overnight; rise in steamy oven 30-60 minutes; bake. It’s not quick to make, but it’s not particularly difficult either. It just takes proper timing and a little planning ahead.

Citrus Ginger Ring
Citrus Ginger Ring

Continue reading Overnight Citrus-Ginger Ring

It’s not too late for Guinness cupcakes!

I’m not celebrating St. Patrick’s Day today, but if I were going to at the last minute, I would definitely make my favorite chocolate cake in the whole world – Guinness Chocolate Cake. It’s very easy to make, and is incredibly rich and moist. The cake itself isn’t very beery, although you can tell it’s there if you know what you’re tasting for.

It’s also very easy to half the recipe and make it into Chocolate Stout Cupcakes if you were making them for just a few people and didn’t want to have to eat all that cake yourself. The only special ingredients you might need are stout beer and yogurt or sour cream. Today, I’d frost the cupcakes with green frosting.

(One of these days I’ll get around to making the cupcakes and filling them with whiskeyed ganache and topping them with Bailey’s flavored frosting, like Deb does at Smitten Kitchen.)

Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale

Within the past few weeks, I made Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale. The soup sounded hearty and warming during our recent cold snap when winter told St. Louis that spring was farther away than we hoped.

I only made a few changes to the recipe. I used a pound of bulk sweet Italian sausage that grocery stores in St. Louis (or maybe it’s just Schnucks) sell. I cut out the oil added to the soup – after all, sausage renders plenty of fat – and hardly used the garlic oil I made. (It’s going to be added to focaccia whenever I make it again.) I added all of the kale that I bought to go in the soup, rather than restricting it to 3-4 cups.

The soup was pretty easy to make. Brown sausage; add diced vegetables until softened; add lentils, tomatoes, bay leaves, water, salt, and pepper; cover and simmer until lentils are done; and add kale to wilt. It takes a little time for the lentils to cook (about 40 minutes), but it’s hands-off time – I took the time to sit down and read for a little while.

I forgot to take a picture of the soup when we ate it – every single time. But I can tell you that it looked like Deb’s pictures of the soup did – rich and red and earthy.

I’m not always a huge fan of sausage, but I was pleasantly surprised by this soup. It was warming and hearty. Alex and I thought that about a pound of sausage was the right amount for this soup – it flavored the soup well. The flavor was strong enough that the kale wasn’t too bitter for it. This is one of the few lentil soups that I’ve actually enjoyed, and I think that’s due to the flavor the sausage gave the broth.

All in all, this was a great soup to make. The ingredients are inexpensive; the recipe, easy to make; and the soup itself, satisfying. It’s definitely a recipe worth trying.

Horchata

My friend Kate had a vegan taco night at her house. There are a number of delicious vegan foods – like salsa or guacamole – that I could have made to take that night. Instead, I decided that it was the perfect time for me to make Horchata.

That’s right – horchata is dairy-free. Really. The beverage is basically a rice-almond milk.

refreshing Horchata
refreshing Horchata

Continue reading Horchata

Paczki (Polish Mardi Gras donuts)

Last year for Mardi Gras I made Paczki, which I’d always wanted to make. I don’t have the energy to fry and fill donuts this weekend. I think I’ll just buy some from the grocery store when we go next – I can’t imagine a Mardi Gras season without them. And hopefully, I’ll make a King’s Cake tomorrow.

Pepper Pork Chops

In December I tried Alton Brown’s Pepper Pork Chops in the slow cooker. I liked them (a fair amount, in fact) but never got around to writing about them, unfortunately.

Now that it’s January and I feel lacking in inspiration, I thought I would give them another try. After all, if I make a recipe I like, I really should blog about it, shouldn’t I?

Here’s my version – Continue reading Pepper Pork Chops

Espresso Biscotti

I’ve heard biscotti are a great food to give as gift. I’ve never given them myself, but I loved receiving them once. Making biscotti as a food gift was likely what I had in my mind when I bookmarked the recipe for Espresso Biscotti, but I finally just decided I wanted to make them for myself.

You should definitely use an electric mixer to make these biscotti. There’s not a lot of moisture in biscotti dough, so you’ll need to whip the butter to get all the dry ingredients to come together properly. My stand mixer worked best at getting this dough together; a hand mixer will take a while.

Continue reading Espresso Biscotti

Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake

I’ve wanted to try the Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake for quite a while, but it was only recently that I finally got around to it.

This cake takes 6 egg whites, which is great for using up the egg whites leftover from making ice cream. It also was a great application for the hazelnuts I’ve had sitting around for longer than I’d like to admit. You toast the nuts and grind them, so it would be even easier to just use hazelnut meal (if you find such a thing). There’s still a little flour in this cake, so it’s not gluten-free.

Continue reading Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake

Cranberry-Oat Scones

I used to make brunch every weekend. More recently I haven’t been able to, as we’ve had races or other things to go and do. It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve baked breakfast on the weekend, even if all that’s really happened is that I’ve gone from making brunch once or twice every weekend to making brunch once every other weekend or so.

For some reason I wanted to make Cranberry-Oat Scones this weekend. Not entirely sure why. I guess I wanted something that tasted bright to complement the crisp fall air that’s been around this week.

This was as simple a scone recipe as any I’ve made. Continue reading Cranberry-Oat Scones