Dinner on the Farm: Instant Pot Chili Night!

We just got back from camping and cooking on an open fire. And let me tell you, it’s one of the things I enjoy most. Now, the little incident we had with our camper hitting the bottom of a low bridge and sending us tent camping for 5 days, I don’t love so much. But, I’m so glad that we went ahead with the trip and had all the fun we were wanting to.

That being said, getting back to school and our regular routine hasn’t been easy and I’m craving the great outdoors and gazing up at the stars from my tent window. So, waking up to the low 60s this morning and feeling fall in the air was welcome and made me reminisce about the chili we cooked in our cast iron pot on the coals of our fire ring. I wanted to recreate it at home, with a little twist on the seasonings. Instead of using instant seasoning packets that we used to convenience while at the campsite.

I came up with a happy mix of an Italian and western inspired taste and a whole lot of flavor! We usually never cook our chili the same way twice. Sometimes it’s spicy, sometimes sweet. This recipe is a nice, simple, comforting chili you can cook with most ingredients you’d already own and throw it together in about 10-15 minutes (minus cook time), and I think I’ll be returning to it often throughout autumn and winter.

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds ground beef (But I actually used goat meat for mine. You could also substitute turkey.)
  • 1 onion finely diced
  • 3 heaping tablespoons garlic powder
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 jar of your favorite chunky pasta sauce (I used homemade, you may want one like Prego Garden Harvest Chunky Italian or something similar)
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons smoky dry rub (I used Stonemill brand but, you can use any you like or make your own from a recipe like THIS)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika (yes, extra paprika)
  • 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 15 ounce can light kidney beans drained and rinsed
  • 15 ounce can dark kidney beans drained and rinsed
  • 15 ounce can pinto beans drained and rinsed
  • Assorted toppings like shredded cheese, green onions and sour cream

Directions:

  1. Turn your Instant Pot to Saute. Add the olive oil to the pot.
  2. Add the onion and cook until slightly browned and translucent.
  3. Add the meat and cook until browned, breaking up the beef (or meat of your choice) with a spatula as you stir.
  4. Add the garlic, tomatoes, pasta sauce, beef broth, dry rub, cumin, smoked paprika, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, pepper and beans to the pot.
  5. Turn the Instant Pot to the Chili/Beans setting and place the lid on the pot. Cook for 20 minutes. Release the pressure either manually or allow it to release naturally.
  6. Serve and enjoy!

Back to School: Skolebrød

I am of no Norwegian or Scandinavian descent… that I know of. But, when I ran across a bunch of random recipes for skolebrød, “school bread”, while late night scrolling online, I knew I needed to make these as a back to school treat for my kiddos. And, for myself too, if I’m being honest. Just looking at the Google images will make you salivate. I obviously know this from far too much experience. lol.

From what I’ve read, these are generally described as a type of sweet bun seasoned with cardamom that began in the 1950’s as a snack packed in school lunches as a treat or as something sold at a bake sale. Hence, the reference to “school bread” or, skoleboller, “school buns”.

Nowadays, these mouth-watering buns, flaked with coconut, swathed with a sweet glaze, and filled with a generous portion of vanilla custard are a familiar, ethnic favorite. No longer just related to the school house or lunch box, these yummies are planted in bakeries, stores, coffee shops/cafes, and even gas stations in Norway!

The closest I’ve come to eating authentic Norwegian cuisine is a visit to Epcot at Disney World. How about you? From what I can recall, it was delicious, but I don’t think I ever got to taste anything baked while I was there. And cardamom certainly hasn’t been something I’ve reached for a lot in the recent past. But, everything I researched swore that it puts Norway’s baked goods on the cutting edge. So, with a little help from the lovely photos over at Alice & Astrid as well as two different attempts, I adapted & baked my own skolebrød! And, left a few without the standard toppings because of my husband’s dislike of coconut, making them what would be called solbolle, “sun buns”.

Each year it’s fun to go something a little fun and ‘extra’ for the kids when they restart and end the school year. And, I think when it’s something homemade or handmade, it really adds to the feeling of care, concern, and reward the kids sense coming from me. I hope they always remember memories like me making diverse, traditional dishes for them and recreate the experience for themselves and their own children.

But, before I get too emotional and start talking about how kids grow up too fast and how quickly time is bypassing me, let’s get to the recipe!

Skolebrød (Norwegian sweet buns with custard and coconut)

Makes 10-12

Bun Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • 1 egg
  • 3 ¼ cups flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp cardamom
  • 8.5g of dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup butter, cut into pieces

Vanilla Custard:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar (add 1-2 drop of vanilla extract and beat into the sugar)
  • 2 egg yolks beaten

Glaze & Assembly:

  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp lemon fresh juice
  • 1 ½ cups of shredded coconut

Instructions:

  1. Start by gently warming the milk, whether on the stove or in the microwave. Either way, you want it just a little more than lukewarm.
  2. Mix all dry ingredients in a mixer with a dough hook. Then, add the warm milk and egg.
  3. Mix on low for about 8 minutes without stopping.
  4. Stop the mixer and add the butter to the dough. Turn the mixer on to medium speed for 5 more minutes. The dough will be very elastic and kind of ‘wet’.
  5. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a towel and let rise for 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
  6. While the dough is rising, you can begin making the custard. Using a double boiler (or in my case, a glass bowl and a saucepan), place the milk, vanilla, and egg yolks. Add in the flour a little at a time and whisk it in. Stir often with a wooden spoon to prevent lumps.
  7. Bring to a light boil while continuing to stir, until the mixture thickens.
  8. Remove from heat and place in a bowl. Allow the custard to cool to room temperature.
  9. When the dough has finished rising, take it out and place it on a lightly floured surface. Form the dough into a large log and cut it into 10-12 pieces. Roll each piece into a round bun and place half of the buns on one prepared baking sheet and the other half on another prepared baking sheet, leaving space between each. Cover each sheet with a towel and let the buns rise for another 30 minutes.
  10. While the buns are proving, make the glaze. 
  11. Preheat the oven to 450°F. When the buns are ready, make a nice indentation in the center of each. I like to use my pestle (from my pestle and mortar), but you can use a spoon or anything else that will work. Make sure to press down all the way!
  12. Fill each with about 2 Tablespoons of the prepared custard. Brush the sides of each bun with the lightly beaten egg.
  13. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Repeat for the second batch. Allow the buns to cool completely.
  14. When the buns have cooled, take the glaze and place it around the center. Immediately pressed into the coconut and turn until the glaze is completely covered by coconut.

Serve and eat up! I have read that these will last in an airtight container (preferably in the fridge) for 2-3 days, but that fresh baked is really the way to enjoy them!

I had mixed reviews from my family on this one, but the process was a lot of fun!

Instant Pot “Colder Weather” Soup

Anyone that knows me and my cooking, knows that I’m really not good at or disciplined in the area of cleaning as I go. For dealing with this, my husband must be commended, because the dishes often fall on his shoulders. For these, and many other reasons, I like to make one pot/pan meals to cut down on the mess & stress.

Since we haven’t been eating out inside of restaurants since COVID began and we only really order out for pizza, we have cooked at home A LOT and I never thought I’d say it, but… it’s getting old. I’m at the point where by 3 PM, I am wishing food would just appear for my family and that a fairy godmother would come take care of cleanup. I can’t be the only one feeling this way, right?

With the first day of winter right around the corner, I’ve been digging out some hearty soup recipes that we all love and trying to develop some new ones that we can toss into the instant pot, “set and forget”. That said, the groceries are packed with the holidays coming up and I’m finding that they are having a hard time keeping things in stock. Lots of the meats and ingredients I need for the week, when I’m meal planning, seem to disappear before I can put them in my online cart at Walmart or my husband returns home half empty-handed when I send him on a run for my specifics. That was the case this week, which I what lead me to coming up with the soup I’m sharing here today.

The weather is getting colder. A lot of days around here have been highs in the 30s and snow has shown it’s face more than once. A comforting bowl of slurp worthy goodness was just what I knew we all needed. And, if you’re feeling that way too, then this soup recipe is for you! The ingredient list is simple and the tastes are familiar; they marry together in a way that is delectable. Plus, served with 60 minute dinner rolls… midweek, supper time heaven. Disclosure: It does have a bit of heat to it. It’s delightful, but if you’re sensitive to spice, maybe omit the red pepper.

Instant Pot “Colder Weather” Soup

Ingredients:

1 Lb ground Italian sausage

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons of Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

1/2-1 cup chopped celery leaves

1 can diced tomatoes, undrained

2 cans navy beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup white wine

3 cups water

2 cups chicken broth

Salt + pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Set your instant pot to sauté and drizzle the bottom of the pot with olive oil. Cook your italian sausage and onion together until the sausage is brown & onions are mostly translucent. Add red pepper & minced garlic and cook for 5 more minutes.

2. Stop sauté and add the rest of the ingredients to the pot one by one. Pressure cook for 20 minutes.

3. Serve, topped with mozzarella cheese. And, preferably, with your choice of bread. Bon appetit!

Pandemic, Hygge Dinner Therapy

Here we are. In the midst of another rise of the never-ending Covid19 pandemic cases. As you know, if you follow my instagram, I have gone through many ups and downs when it comes to being able to find joy during these unpredictable and tiring times. My lack of being able to remain “present” and finding a sense of purpose in the recent months has reached new levels of unattainability. And, lately, I find myself leaping from idea to idea; grasping at straws trying to keep my mind busy with anything and everything that I can fit into my schedule. Painting my bathroom, trips to isolated book stores far away, amusing myself with imagining and planning journeys to the hippie towns across America, random acts of kindness to friends and strangers, painting a ridiculously hard (and still incomplete) paint by numbers… you name it, it’s probably floated across my mind.

The point is, we all want to feel a little bit of completeness during a time when so little is certain. We want to feel whole where there are voids. And if we can find anything heartwarming, we’ll latch onto it. And what warms the heart more than having a meal with friends and family? Not much.

Unfortunately, at this time, getting together with other humans is discouraged because, well… COVID. Yes, we know it travels, it’s extremely contagious, and you have to move heaven and earth to get people to wear masks… So, dinner parties? Not really much of an option, unless you want to spend time with 15 people and have 72% change of contracting the virus. Or so said an article I read online today. Yet, I have/had been dying to just GATHER. Like, we used to. And it’s brought a number of tears to flow throughout the year, knowing that it’s just not possible. So, I decided to take matters in my own hands.

In the recent years, I’ve developed this attitude like ‘I’m not gonna wait around on other people. If I want to do something, I’m going to. Even if I have to do it alone.” Apparently, dinner parties are included. So, I informed my hubby that I was going to do a faux dinner party, just because and for my family. Decor and all. Just for some kind of therapy.

Now, at first, that was going to include lanterns and 150 paper cranes hanging from the ceiling. I was THIS close to ordering a massive amount of twinkle lights from Amazon and stringing them up. Nearly bought new dishes… Until, I realized that I might be getting a tad carried away.  I mean, we are legitimately just trying to get by in these awkward, socially distant times. So, instead, I resigned to save my really amped up ideas for when I can fill my home with more people I love. And, decided my main objective would be to just set up a budget friendly, cozy meal that would feel intimate and a little more rustic than say handmade origami ornaments at each place setting. Are you sensing a theme yet?

I’ve been craving Asian food for weeks and, specifically, missing a restaurant from our home in NC. My fave dish is served there and it’s flawless, along with their coconut cake for dessert. So I looked up some recipes on pinterest for what I wanted and found an overabundance of options. I decided to make the main course and dessert from scratch and accompany it with pre-prepped appetizers and sides. Yeah, I was going a real restaurant style dining here, and wrote up the menu on my dining room chalkboard a week in advance so I’d have something to look forward to. You could, of course, do this week any type of food.

Now let’s talk decor and place settings. I’d like to talk about this in case you are in a little bit of a slump and want to do something simple like this in order to bring yourself and family a little bit of cheer. I’ll go through what I threw together and what alternatives there are out there.

The tablescape, you’ll notice, was rather uncomplicated. I didn’t have time to get flowers or anything and my table is SO long that it’s very hard to find an inexpensive table runner or table cloth to cover it. So, I started thinking about how some restaurants cover their tables with butcher paper and thought, “HELLO, KID FRIENDLY & easy cleanup!” But, rolls of butcher paper were like 15 dollars! This craft paper, gift wrapping paper was $1 a roll at Dollar Tree. I could’ve used the underside if I had wanted it plain, but I really loved the fun polkadot playfulness it gave the table. They also have plain kraft paper available for just under $2 a roll at Dollar General.

I already owned the candle lanterns and candles, which I got from walmart at the beginning of fall from Walmart. I’m linking the candles (which smell divine!) HERE. I haven’t seen the the lanterns since, in-store or online, so HERE are some similar ones. And you could probably also look at places like Hobby Lobby or Old Time Pottery for something similar and inexpensive. As well as the candles.

I simply bought reindeer moss for $1 a bag from Dollar Tree and filled the bottom of my lantern with it, around the candle, for a more woodsy and homey look. And to avoid fingerprints on the glass, I maneuvered it around with a spatula.

I got my snowy trees on a log, tabletop decor from Walmart for like $6, but I can’t find it on their website anywhere. If you can’t find anything in your area similar, you could probably craft it pretty easily with supplies from a dollar store. Or you could purchase a set like THIS from Walmart (below) or THESE glittery gems from Target.

On either side of the trees, I places cutting boards to place appetizers on and flanked them on one side with a beaded garland I got from Amazon earlier this year. I also used four, mercury glass votive holders I found at Dollar General for $1 a piece on each corner. They are adorable and I’ll definitely be reusing them again and again. I found a similar set of 12 on Amazon HERE.

Now, let’s talk about dishes! Mine are by Magnolia (Hearth & Hand) from Target and I got them a little over a year ago as part of their fall collection. They are no longer available, but if you are in the market for new dishes, I strongly suggest checking out what they do have in stock. Such as the beautiful, red rimmed dishes they just came out with!

I used the mixed matched silverware that I already own (I’m due for a new set) and wrapped it with $1 white napkins from Dollar General & found red burlap ribbon on sale to tie it up with. Next time, I may go ahead and spring for some more expensive linen napkins like the ones I’ve found online (below). And if you are having a little fancier of an event with more extended family…etc, it would definitely be a nice touch. You could even do matching ones with your dishes like the photo above.

There are also plenty of nice biodegradable options online. Like these palm leaf plates! Which are a great, more natural, primitive choice.

That’s about it. I would’ve done placemats like these had I thought about it beforehand, so that’s also an option. I also, ordered chopsticks because of the nature of food, that only set me back $6.99. Plus, everyone loves chopsticks! Twinkle lights also came into play all over the room where I could hide the LED battery pack HAHA! Spent $5 on 5 packs of those at the dollar store and they were a nice addition to the cozy, hygge factor. And the candlesticks on the mantel + burning wood stove in my dining room didn’t hurt anything either.

Overall, I spent approximately $28 (not counting all the groceries for dinner) and repurposed a lot of things I already owned. I hope this gave you a lot of ideas of how you can easily create a comfortable, spruced up space for you and your loved ones to enjoy a special dinner despite everything going on in the world right now. You don’t have to have a lot of money to enjoy a nice, memorable evening together- even if you’ve already spent months in the same house. Take the time out to make your life extraordinary!

GUEST POST: Fulcrum Farms’ Chicken Paprikash

I am so thankful for Instagram and the people it provides to you at the right time. Amber @ Fulcrum Farms has always been super sweet and supportive of my page so it just felt right to reach out to her and ask if she would write a post for the blog. If you talkto her, it just felt like a natural fit. She came up with such a great post and one of my fave comfort foods to write about for you. So, without further adieu…

FULCRUM FARMS, Amber:

When I was contacted by the lovely Quin, to write a post for her blog, I was kind of caught off guard. What could I possibly say that anyone would want to read? I’m new to owning land, I don’t have experience with real farming, and I’ve never officially raised an actual farm animal (aside from chickens, which most people start out with anyhow). So what could I write about that people might be interested in?

Then I decided – well, I could just share a quick recipe, something perfect for cool weather, and comforting after a long day of work. I don’t know anyone who couldn’t use a good recipe for that! Everyone that I have shared this with has enjoyed it immensely. It’s super simple, but it is also absolutely delicious. Handed down from mother’s side of the family, I make this many times through the fall/winter months to fill all our tummies when we are running on low. I hope that you like it as much as we do!
Chicken Paprikash

4 Bone in Skin on Chicken breasts (or thighs or a mix)32 oz chicken broth1 large yellow onion, chopped4 cloves garlic, crushed1/2 C flour1/4 C Hungarian PaprikaSalt and Pepper, to taste 16oz sour cream
Heat and oil a large skillet or pot with a lid. Cook chicken until browned on all sides, it will finish cooking through during braising.  Remove to a plate and cover.  Lower heat. Add onion and garlic to the skillet, pour more oil if needed.  Cook, stirring often, until fragrant and onions turn translucent.

Meanwhile, mix together flour, paprika, salt and pepper.  Once onion and garlic are soft, stir in the flour/paprika mix.  Increase heat to medium and stir, it will be VERY thick – you just want to cook the flour for 30-60 seconds to remove the raw taste. Whisk in the broth, be sure to stir it very well to remove clumps. Once the broth has been mixed into the flour, bring pot to a boil. Return chicken, submerge and lower to a simmer.  Cover with lid. 

Allow to cook several hours, I usually leave mine on low for 4-5.  Or, if your cooktop likes to burn things, put into an oven at 250* for 3-5 hours (optionally a slow cooker and/or instant pot would work wonderfully for this recipe too!). Check every so often, if you’re using an oven or cooktop, to make sure the it isn’t boiling hard – you want to braise the meat slowly in plenty of liquid. 

About 60 minutes before you plan to eat, put sour cream out on counter to come to room temp.  30 minutes before you plan to eat, use a colander and drain the chicken, onions and garlic.  Wipe out pan, then add liquid back into pot, keep off heat. Separate the onions and garlic from the chicken, discard. Debone, remove skin and shred or chop the chicken, set aside.  Whisk sour cream into pot, turn heat to medium low.  Add in chicken, stir, and keep warm until serving.

I make homemade spatzel to go along with this and serve with a side of fordhook Lima beans or baby peas. Egg noodles and rice are both good options as well. 
This makes enough to serve my family of 6 – with seconds and usually some leftover. It’s also easy to adjust to your taste – add or remove ingredients to your preference. We like a lot of paprika, so my recipe calls for a large amount. We prefer white meat, so I use bone in skin on breasts. We don’t like the onions/garlic floating around in our liquid so I strain and remove them. 
If I can give 2 recommendations –

  1. Use bone in and skin on chicken, any pieces will work or just take a whole chicken and cut it up to fry and continue with the recipe as written.
  2. Purchase Hungarian paprika. The better quality you have, the better your dish will taste. You can use the store brand paprika, but if you can splurge on a container of real Hungarian paprika – do it!

Enjoy!

A Soulful Autumn: Savory Butternut Squash Soup

Every year I end up trying a bunch of new soup recipes. My hubby loves soup in the fall and winter and, with unlimited sourdough, could probably eat me out of house and home during those cooler months. I used to HATE soup, until we got married. Now, I too, look forward to the nights being a little chillier, and the mornings being more brisk. Not just because autumn is my favorite season, but because soups and chilis and chowders are on the menu as regulars once again.

Thankfully, recently, we have had the fortunate circumstances of being able to receive boxes of food provision from friends. They contain lots of different things, from milk and yogurt, to veggies and meat. And we couldn’t be more grateful that, especially during COVID, we are able to share our abundance and be the recipients of others’ generosity as well.

In these boxes recently have been lovely, large butternut squash! I was so excited when I saw them, because, for years now, I have been dying to try making butternut squash soup. But, for some reason, I never have. So, yesterday was finally the day! To use these beautiful veggies before I forgot about them and let them turn. The result was one of the creamiest, savory soups I’ve made in a long time!

My family ooh’d and aww’d their way through dinner and the kids must’ve thanked my husband and. I a million times over for making dinner- like we don’t every other day. Haha. But, needless to say, this was a family favorite and I’ll be making it again and again. This recipe also makes a TON so I’ll be freezing some as well, because, honestly, (ask my husband) cutting these butternut babies is a tad laborious.

You may wonder why I make large batch recipes… and, the short answer is, because I have six mouths to feed. But, the better answer is that lots of recipes get better the next day, once the flavors have married a bit more. Also, I can store them for eating later; whether by canning them or putting them in the freezer. Not to mention, large batches are meant to share! Even though we are currently observing social distancing, I often drop off food to friends or family so that they feel loved and thought about. It’s a great way to spread a little joy in these weird times.

The best news about this soup, is that once all those lovely squash are cut, the recipe is SO simple. So, here it is! Hope you LOVE it and find it as delish as we did. Let me know if you recreate it and what (if any) additions or substitutions you make. 🙂

Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons olive oil or butter

5 lbs butternut squash; peeled, seeded, and cubed

6 cloves of garlic

2 medium yellow onion

8 cups vegetable broth

2 cups of water

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 medium carrots

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 cups heavy cream

*fresh parsley, sour cream, and nutmeg for serving

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil/butter over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 5 minutes. Then, add garlic and brown sugar. Saute another 2 minutes.
  2. Stir in vegetable broth and water (scraping the bottom of the pan for the yummy bits).
  3. Add squash and carrots, salt, pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until squash is very soft. About 20 minutes.
  4. Stir in heavy cream. Puree with an immersion blender.
  5. Serve warm topped with whatever toppings are desired.

YUMMY, Batch Sourdough

I have been baking sourdough for a bit over a month now and, while I’m not expert, it’s become one of my favorite pastimes. It’s become a ritual I perform at least once a week, preferably on Saturday/Sunday and I usually bake more than one. Now, I don’t know everything is to know about hydration and everything , but I know that I’ve never had my bread turn out bad. And that means a lot.

What also means a lot, is that I’ve had people from other states beg me to make them bread because they think it’s so beautiful. I’ve had a friend text me and tell me I need to host a Zoom cooking class. And, I’ve had internet acquaintances give me encouraging words. All of that means to me, I must be doing something right with my sourdough boules.

I’ve taken to making between one and three loaves per week and giving away a lot of them as “covid care packages”. So, I thought I might share my bulk batch recipe in order to give you an easy, no-knead recipe you can literally sleep on and come out of it with perfect looking loaves.

I learned basically everything I know about baking sourdough from following along with Sylvia from Feasting At Home. This recipe was adapted from hers and the tips and tricks I picked up along the way. She has an amazing, broken down timeline on her blogged recipe, equipment to have on hand, and some special tips she finds helpful too– head over and check it out!

In the meantime, I’ll let you know that I got my [live] sourdough starter from Breadtopia because. wanted a jump start on the process. And when I say “jump start”, I mean mine was ready to bake in like two days! Wowza! You can purchase from the Breadtopia website or from Amazon; live or dry. If you go this route, I HIGHLY recommend that you follow the directions for care provided by Breadtopia for the best results.

Now, your first attempt may not be perfect. Mine certainly wasn’t! (See above) However, I feel like, in this technology driven society, it’s nice to practice slow living by taking your time to really develop a craft/hobby or two that takes you away from your phone and computer. Something that makes you feel like you’ve spent you time well. Makes you feel like you’ve really accomplished something.

So, here goes, guys! The recipe is below and it’s a good one! Yield is three boules (or batards), 75% hydration. Whichever you prefer. Bon appetit!

YUMMY, Batch Sourdough

Ingredients:

12 cups (leveled) of bread flour (personally, I do not weigh)

6 tsp salt

5.5 cups water (filtered is preferred)

1 cup of sour dough starter

(I love to add sesame seeds, rosemary, parsley, oregano…etc to season when I’m in the mood.)

Directions:

  1. At least 8 hrs before mixing your dough, feed your sourdough starter and leave it out on the counter.
  2. When ready, add your flour to a large bowl. Mix in spices, seeds, flavorings at this time. Add your starter and water next. (I, personally do not dilute my starter in the water first for this. However, if you are more comfortable with that method, you can mix the starter with your water until the water is cloudy before adding it to the dry mixture.)
  3. Mix all ingredients with your hands (or a wooden spoon if you prefer, but to me the hands are the best tools for this) for a minute or two until you have a shaggy, sticky dough. Make sure the flour is completely mixed in, without overworking and ‘tidying’ the dough. Messy is okay! cover with a wet kitchen towel and let rest 15 minutes. It will loosen up as it rests.
  4. Do the first set of stretch and folds.  With one wet hand (put a bowl of water next to you) pull the dough from one side and stretch it upward, then fold it up and over to the center of the dough.  Turn the bowl and repeat until the dough gets firm and resists. This helps strengthen the gluten. Cover, rest, and repeat the process  15-20 minutes later. (I do this 3-4 times total, but only two is “required”.)
  5. Proof overnight, at room temp. Cover with plastic or wax wrap or a damp kitchen towel and place it on your counter for 8-12 hours. (68-70F is the ideal temp. according to Sylvia.)
  6. Check the dough in the morning. The dough should have flattened, expanded, with a slight dome to the top.
  7. Flour your Banneton basket (if you have one). If you do not have one, line. high-sided bowl with non-stick parchment paper.
  8. Loosen the dough from the all edges of a bowl with using your wet fingers. With both hands, carefully pull the dough straight up, in the middle and lift it, stretching straight up in the air until it hangs down 12-24 inches and place it back down, gently folding it on top of itself. It will firm up as it stretches and folds. Do this at least 3 times. The third time you lift and stretch, lift it all the way into your parchment-lined bowl/banneton seam side up.
  9. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for uncovered which will firm up the bread, make scoring easier and help boost  oven spring. Preheat the oven (for 1 FULL hour)  to 500F with your dutch oven inside and lid on.
  10. Score the bread in the bowl, using a very sharp knife, lame, or razor blade & bake.
  11. Place in the middle of the oven for and immediately drop heat to 450F and bake 25 minutes with lid on. Remove lid and it should be puffed and just lightly golden. Lower heat to 450 F, Continue baking 18-20 minutes until deeply golden. Keep an eye on it!
  12. Let it cool for 45 min to 1 hr before cutting and serving. Enjoy! With butter, honey, jam, olive oil & balsamic… any way you choose!

***When you put one loaf into the oven, rotate your next loaf into the fridge. Also, when you go to put the second and third loaves into the oven, don’t change the temperature! Start out at 450 and bake for a little longer time, if needed.

Charlie’s Chocolate Bundt + Lavender Vanilla Glaze

Lately, I have been craving rich, yummy comfort foods. Especially sweet ones! I’m currently trying to break that habit because my jeans don’t really like it, but man! do I love a good slice of cake or decadent pastry. And my passion for baking has only shown itself more in the past few weeks.

I wanted to share this recipe because is a refreshing take on the typical chocolate cake, but it’s also very moist and indulgent. Kudos go to my daughter, or this recipe would have never been born- so it’s named after her. She requested a chocolate butterfly cake a while back, which I obliged with this recipe. However, her cake was slathered with vanilla buttercream and then decorated with a trillion sprinkles.

After making her cake, I started thinking about ways I could make it again, but in a more sophisticated, simple, and elegant way. I have also been trying to use as many unexpected herbs in my cooking as possible, recently. While chocolate and vanilla are classic flavors (and what my daughter picked), I wanted a twist and ultimately decided to add lavender.

I also made a large batch of lavender lemonade to serve with it. YUM! Which my husband eventually turned into a cocktail with gin and ginger beer. Basically, we’ve been living in a lavender heaven!

In my opinion, this is a wonderful cake to bring to a spring or summer gathering or share with family on a special occasion. However, in my case this was just for fun, and I ended up sharing it with my sister-in-law and family. I was glad they loved it- enough to even enjoy it for breakfast! Haha! ( I apologize for not having more photos!)

If you decide to try this out, I truly hope it brings you as much happiness as I had making it.

Ingredients:

Cake:

3 cups flour

2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp baking soda

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup cooking oil (I used coconut)

1/2 cup hot water

1 Tbsp vanilla

1 pkt instant chcolate pudding

1/2 cup sour cream

Glaze:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tbsp dried lavender buds

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. For the Cake, mix all dry ingredients, by hand or in a mixer. In a separate bowl, combine pudding mix, eggs, buttermilk, water, oil and 1 tablespoon vanilla. In large mixer bowl, combine dry ingredients and wet, by slowly pour in the wet ingredients while whisking with electric mixer on low/medium speed for up to 2 minutes. Stir in sour cream. Pour into greased bundt pan.

Bake on 350° for 50-60 minutes. Cool in pan 20-30 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack or plate. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, for the glaze, Bring cream just to a simmer, stirring occasionally, in a small saucepan over medium. Remove from heat, and stir in dried lavender; let stand 10-15 minutes.

Pour lavender milk through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl, and cool completely, about 20 minutes. 

Whisk together powdered sugar, salt, 1/4-1/2 of the lavender milk, and 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice. Whisk in up to 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. (However, because I didn’t want the lemony taste to take away from the lavender I ended up adding a little bit of water instead, to thin out the glaze. Don’t add so much water, though, that you dilute the taste or make your glaze so thin it sinks into the cake.)

Sprinkle with dried lavender buds, if desired. Enjoy!

Hopefully you whip this up, post a picture, and tag me on social media @lone_birch.

Blackberry Ginger Cake w/ Peach Apricot Filling + Barely There Cream Cheese Icing

Where do I even start with this cake? It’s pure magic. It’s perfect for any occasion. And, if possible, it’s even better the second day.

I developed this recipe on a whim, in the middle of the night (no surprise) and probably annoyed the crap out of my husband by constantly asking, “Does this sound good? Do you think this goes together?” I wanted so badly to have some originality to the flavor combo, but also have it taste cohesive.

I saw a cake on Pinterest that was honestly the inspiration for the whole process. It was no only pretty, but it melded together incredible flavors. It inspired me to do the same, but with my own imaginative blend. I tend to like making things multidimensional because I like the challenge of it.

Since COVID, I have seen people turn into serial bakers. But, I had managed to avoid it, for the most part… until I made this cake. I bake when I’m stressed, and the longer this pandemic lasts, the harder it is to resist making anything that pops into my head. It’s so satisfying to see creations come to life.

My whole family, kids included, ranted about how great this was! I have to admit, even though my kids aren’t picky eaters, I wasn’t sure this would be their taste. In hindsight, I think this is probably a very generally liked mixture of ingredients.

We ate on this for days and I swear it got better with time! It has a nice, warm gingery taste but, with a bit of depth from the blackberry. The peach and apricot give the cake a nice punchiness without being tart. And, the cream cheese icing- reminiscent of carrot cake- is to die for. No one thing overpowers the other. They all just work together to create something delicious!

While I initially made this in late spring, when all the fruity ingredients could be found fresh locally, you could use canned fruit for this as well. Or, even frozen. However, keep in mind the water content in thawed frozen fruit will be higher so you may end up with a runnier filling; you may have to add a thickening agent, such as xanthan gum or gelatin.

I hope, if you make this, you enjoy it as much as we do! And if you care to share, tag me on social media @lone_birch so I can see your version!

INGREDIENTS:

CAKE:

10 tbsp butter

3 large eggs

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup + 1.5 tbsp brown sugar, firmly packed

1/4 tsp vanilla

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour

2 tsp backing powder

1.5 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 cup finely grated, fresh ginger

1 1/4 cup pureed (strained) blackberries

2 tbsp lemon juice

FILLING:

1/3 cup pureed peaches

1/3 cup pureed apricot

FROSTING:

10 tbsp butter (softened)

12 tbsp room temperature cream cheese

1 cup powdered sugar

1/4 tsp vanilla

CARAMELIZED APRICOTS:

8 ripe apricots

1/2 cup honey

INSTRUCTIONS:

CAKE:

  1. Heat oven to 350° F (170° C).
  2. Butter two 6-inch (15 cm) cake pans.
  3. 4. Beat eggs and sugars until fluffy and lighter in color and texture, about 3 minutes. Add melted butter and vanilla and beat until combined.
  4. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a bowl, then stir into the batter until just smooth.
  5. Peel and grate the ginger. Put the blackberries in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Strained through a fine mesh strainer.
  6. Add grated ginger and all of the blackberry puree to the batter and stir until combined. Batter will look bluish/gray. Divide batter between the two cake pans.
  7. Bake for about 40-43 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  8. Leave to cool in the pans for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

FILLING:

  1. Put both the apricots and peaches together in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
  2. Set aside in the refrigerator until time for cake assembly.

CREAM CHEESE ICING:

1. Beat butter until pale and fluffy. Add cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until just smooth.
2. Put the bowl in the fridge until time for cake assembly.

ASSEMBLY:

1. Cut both cake layers in half with a serrated knife so you end up with four cake layers.
2. Put the first cake layer on a cake board or directly onto a plate or cake stand. Spread a layer of frosting on the first layer, then spread a layer of the peach/apricot puree over. Repeat this until you’ve used up all layers.
3. Spread a thin layer of frosting all over the cake and put in the fridge while you prepare the topping.

CARAMELIZED APRICOTS:

  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. Arrange the apricot halves, sut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Spoon 1/2 tbsp honey onto each apricot half. Brush with melted butter, if desired.
  4. Broil the apricots for 3-4 minutes, until bubbling and caramelized.
  5. Place around the cake as decoration and/or serve on the side of each slice. Vanilla ice cream optional.

My Favorite Homemade Cocktail

So, I know a lot of you will be hanging out (hopefully, somewhat socially distant) with friends or family this weekend. I thought it would be a good time to share my favorite homemade cocktail recipe with you. It’s not complicated, and it’s absolutely delicious!

I haven’t served this to one single person who hasn’t loved it. And, I won’t lie, it’s pretty strong. But, the mix of ingredients is super refreshing and great for front porch sippin’, or passing out at your backyard barbecue.

Personally, I think the best way to serve this is in a copper mug. But, putting it in a mason jar was just so aesthetically pleasing- I just couldn’t help myself. Also, jars (or something similar) might be more practical + cheaper, if you are having several people at your home. Even cooler cups, like an Arctic or Yeti, would work fine!

I came up with this recipe back in the winter, when my best friend was visiting me and I had basically no ingredients in my house to make drinks. We wanted to sit and relax with a cocktail, but my supply was so random… I wasn’t sure what to make. No matter what I Googled, I never had all the components. So, I decided to mix and match what I had based on a couple different ideas I had come across.

Since COVID, especially, this has been put in the regular rotation. It’s a great drink to sit and wind down with after a long day of work on the farm, and sitting around an early evening bonfire.

One thing I want to mention before I go ahead with the recipe is, for measurement, I use a tall shooter glass. However, you could also totally use a jigger like THIS ONE I found on Amazon. So, let’s get to it!

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 oz lime juice

1.5-2 oz gin (depending on how strong you like your drink)

1.5 oz elderflower liqueur

sprite

ice

optional: lemon or lime slices for garnish

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Put ice into a shaker and pour in the lime juice, gin, and elderflower liqueur and shake vigorously.
  2. Transfer mixture into a copper mug (or glass of choice) and top with sprite. Stir, garnish with a lemon or lime slice, if you wish.

This is snappy, refreshing perfection. A great drink year ’round, but especially for summer leisure time. Enjoy!