I think it was January 2019 when Epicurious launched the Cook90 challenge, challenging home cooks to prepare 3 meals a day at home for an entire month. I’m not one for that type of challenge so I never participated. However, this morning, as I updated my kitchen chalkboard where I keep track of the day of the week, date, number of days/weeks/months “safer at home”, and the recently added election countdown, I realized that as a result of the pandemic, I’ve been doing that challenge unexpectedly. As of yesterday, I’ve successfully completed Cook166 and will continue for the foreseeable future.
That’s almost 500 meals! I’ve ordered takeout 5 times (our favorite BBQ restaurant in Boston, the local Thai and Chinese restaurants, lunch from the local Italian place, and a fancy dinner from a place in Cambridge), but Howard or I have prepared the rest. Fortunately, we both enjoy cooking. We started with a well-stocked pantry and freezer, and we haven’t experienced food shortages in our area. Since June, we’ve been well supplied with fresh produce from our CSA share and our backyard garden. Cooking is a great diversion: conversations about what to eat for the next few meals and creative substitutions to avoid shopping, togetherness as we prepare and eat the food, and the satisfaction of being able to take care of ourselves.
Anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows, Howard and I don’t always agree on what to eat. He has lots of rules about what he does and does not consider edible combinations. The zucchini and eggplant in our CSA share present a challenge because I enjoy them and he absolutely will not eat. I’m running out of easy ways to prepare these vegetables that will last a while. Suggestions anyone?
Fruit has its own set of rules that seem to change constantly. Blueberries used to be on the “do not fly” list. That started to relax when we had wild blueberries on our property in Maine. And now that the bushes we planted in the backyard have started to produce, fresh blueberries have become acceptable for breakfast. They also moved up a rung as an acceptable addition to a baked fruit tart, though not when featured as the main event. However, I don’t see cake, such as this week’s Cook the Book Fridays recipe for Blueberry-Buttermilk Bundt Cake, as ever passing muster.
I, on the other hand, enjoy cake with fruit. I don’t make it often because, without an off-site occasion to share, I’d be eating the cake singlehandedly. Some would find it hard to believe, but I like a cake with fruit much more than a chocolate cake.
I considered making a half-batch as mini-Bundts. However, this recipe had an odd number of eggs, which is not an insurmountable problem, but a deterrent. Also, Dorie mentioned that the cake is prone to sticking to the pan. I didn’t really want to multiple that issue by six (for each mini cake). So I made the whole thing.
I’m so glad I did. Blueberry season is over in my yard, so I had to buy the berries, but everything else is always on hand. This cake came together so easily. I greased the pan VERY GENEROUSLY and had no issue with it sliding right out. The crumb is tender and moist, and the underlying flavors (butter, vanilla, and lemon) along with the berries scream of summer. I think this cake would be delicious made with other berries as well: raspberries, blackberries or a combination. I still can’t eat the whole thing myself, but I’ll freeze some in chunks for later.
I also made the Ricotta Spoonable, the selected recipe for Cook the Book Fridays from earlier in the month. I made it on time but didn’t get around to writing about it. I need to remember to use Instagram for weeks like those. This creamy spread reminded me of recipes I’ve made before, maybe even as part of this cooking group. Ricotta is enhanced with lemon juice and zest, shallots, scallions, and fresh herbs. It can be used as a spread for crostini. I intended to dollop most of it on pasta I made with cherry tomatoes and corn and serve the rest as crostini the next day. Unfortunately, the container dropped and cracked (OK, I admit that I dropped it), and I was only able to rescue enough for the pasta. It was nice, but not a definite repeater (though maybe).
If you’d like to try either of these recipes, they can be found in Dorie Greenspan’s book Everyday Dorie. The ricotta is on page 22 and the cake on page 254. You can’t go wrong with either. Impressions on the recipes from my Cook the Book Fridays friends can be found here for the ricotta and here for the cake.
The end of the year is coming fast, and November has been crazy! I had a quick visit to Philadelphia to meet up with my sisters for a happy family event. We packed in the activities, as we always do. Our mother was not one to sit still, and she trained us to be the same way.
I really like cake, plain simple unfrosted cakes. I could take or leave birthday cakes or other layered cakes, but I always enjoy a pound cake, a Bundt cake, or any kind of one layer cake. A simple glaze or a dusting of powdered sugar makes them complete, no fussing required. For Howard, I think it’s all about the frosting as he never gets excited when I make a cake, so they are usually relegated to occasions where I’m having just my friends over or bake something to bring somewhere else.
My favorite bakery cake is the Vanilla Bean Pound Cake made by Hi-Rise Bakery in Cambridge. They are regulars at the Lexington Farmers’ Market and, in season, I treat myself to a slice about once a month. The genius of their cake is that it’s soaked in vanilla-infused simple syrup, making the outside crust magical. Eating an end piece with its extra crust is just heaven. I’ve never made it myself, but here’s the recipe.
Right before I left, I made David Lebovitz’s Bay Leaf Pound Cake, the first November challenge recipe for Cook the Book Fridays. I did NOT need a whole cake. I had nowhere to bring it that week. So, I minified it. I made one-third of the recipe (dividing by the eggs, of course) to fill one small loaf pan – a personal pound cake.
This cake is a little different than a traditional pound cake recipe because rather than creaming the butter, the butter is melted. In this case, the butter is then infused with bay leaves to add some depth of flavor. A couple of bay leaves are also set on the bottom of the pan to add more bay flavoring.
We are also instructed to squeeze a line of soft butter on top of the cake to enhance a decorative crack. It could be because of my smaller pan, but that didn’t happen on my cake.
The final touch was an orange glaze. The cake’s predominant flavor was orange. Even with the infused butter and extra leaves, I didn’t notice the bay flavoring at all. Overall, this was a lovely cake, small enough for me to eat a daily slice for a few days. It wasn’t interesting enough to make again, though I did enjoy it while it lasted.
The second recipe for Cook the Book Fridays is Panade de Butternut (Butternut Squash Bread Soup). To read the C&C (comments and concerns) post for this recipe, it wasn’t getting a lot of love, so I was a bit wary.
The recipe took a bit of advanced planning. David recommends homemade stock for this one. We were finishing up a whole chicken, so that was easy enough with a carcass on hand. I’ve been making stock in the slow cooker for the past few years which is so simple. Sourdough bread was also required. My sourdough starter needed a workout this week, so I managed to bake my own loaf to use. Stock? Check! Bread? Check! I was ready to go.
This panade is a layering of caramelized onions, toasted sourdough bread, sliced butternut squash, chopped thyme and sage, and grated cheese doused with the homemade chicken stock. I halved the recipe for our household. I must have sliced the bread too thickly because there wasn’t nearly enough to fully cover the pan for even two layers, and the recipe called for three. That means I had three layers of squash and just two of bread, which was fine.
As the panade baked, the bread absorbed all the stock, so the result was more like bread pudding than soup. It also reminded me of a lighter version of the filling for a stuffed pumpkin I’ve made. Whatever it was, it was delicious! All the flavors of fall combined into one hearty dish. It would be a wonderful alternative to stuffing for the Thanksgiving table. On the downside, if I’m being honest, even though I really liked it, in my opinion, it was a lot more work than it was worth.
Judge for yourself! Recipes for both the pound cake (page 296) and the panade (page 163) can be found in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. My friends from Cook the Book Fridays made these too. You can find their reviews for the cake here and the panade here.