Monthly Archives

August 2016

book review, recipe

The Nightingale + Summer Vegetable Galette

Even though Kristin Hannah’s historical novel The Nightingale was one of last year’s bestsellers, I just now got around to reading it. I actually checked it out of the library a few times before but always put it down in favor of a shorter (and generally happier) selection. Thankfully, one of my book clubs – the sporadically-meeting one at work – chose it for our next meeting, so I finally had no choice but to pick it up, and I’m glad I did.

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Set primarily in France during WWII, The Nightingale tells the story of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle. Though they take different paths, both sisters do what they must to make a difference in others’ lives, even while struggling to survive their own.

As with any novel set during a war, you shouldn’t head into this expecting an “enjoyable” read because it isn’t. In fact, just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse for the sisters, they inevitably did. The Nazis’ brutality came alive on the page.

Hannah certainly didn’t spare her characters any heartache or physical pain, but she wrote with such poignancy that tender moments became that much more tender and triumphs that much more victorious. Her writing painted a vivid picture of life in German-occupied France. Her descriptions of food, in particular, helped to contrast times of bounty against times of hardship.  

“Two years ago this pantry had been full to overflowing with hams smoked in ash and jars full of duck fat set beside coils of sausage. Bottles of aged champagne vinegar, tins of sardines, jars of jam. Now, they were nearly to the end of the chicory coffee. The last of the sugar was a sparkly white residue in the glass container, and the flour was more precious than gold. Thank God the garden had produced a good crop of vegetables in spite of the war refugees’ rampage.”

Throughout much of the novel, food was scarce but Le Jardin, Vianne’s residence, continued to provide. In a nod to her garden, I opted to make a French galette, or sort of rustic tart, filled with local summer vegetables. I found a recipe from Foodie Crush and made it my own.

I caramelized the onions for about an hour, but if you have the time, I’d recommend going longer. Mine weren’t quite as caramelized as I like them, but I was hungry and impatient. While they cooked down on the stove, I prepped the Michigan-grown tomatoes and zucchini, which were gorgeous.

I assembled the galettes with some pre-made trimmed pie crusts (time saver!) by brushing the edges with egg white and then coating the center with Dijon mustard. I topped each pastry with the caramelized onions, some neat rows of zucchini coins (sprinkled with thyme) and thinnish slices of tomato. A generous coating of crumbled goat cheese and some salt and pepper finished them off.

One more brush of egg white along the folded edges to add some color while baking and into the oven they went. After 25 minutes, they came out like this:

Summer Vegetable Galette with Goat Cheese

  • Servings: 4
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Adapted from: Foodie Crush

Ingredients

  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled, halved and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 refrigerated pie crusts (1 box)
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1-2 large tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • Dried thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat a large saute pan over medium heat and melt the butter and olive oil together. Add the sliced onions, season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and slowly cook the onions for about 1 hour (longer if desired), stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and caramelized. Set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  3. Cut one of the refrigerated pie crusts into a square (removing the rounded edges, discarding or saving for later use), roughly 7” x 9”. Place the pie crust onto a large baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Lightly brush the pie crust with the beaten egg white, inward about 1” from the edges.
  4. Spread 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard on the interior of each pie crust. Scatter the caramelized onions onto the mustard. Layer the zucchini slices over the onions (approximately 3-4 rows). Sprinkle dried thyme onto the zucchini. Top with the tomato slices.
  5. Sprinkle the entire tart with goat cheese, as desired. I used about 3/4 cup of Provençal Herb goat cheese, which included basil among other seasonings. (You can use whatever goat cheese you prefer.) Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Fold the long edges of the pie crust over and then the short edges on each galette. Brush the edges of the crust with egg white.
  7. Bake the galettes for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the vegetables are softened. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

Original recipe from Foodie Crush can be found here.

book review, recipe

Sleeping Giants + Mini Cinnamon Rolls

Sleeping Giants was the first book I received as part of Book of the Month. I joined the club towards the end of June, primarily because I like books but also because I love getting mail and they were doing a summer promotion, which meant discounted books plus sunglasses plus a must-have tote bag. (Score!)

Anyway, I picked Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel, which was selected as an option for July by Liberty Hardy of Book Riot. It was supposed to be The Martian (which I loved) meets World War Z, and Liberty’s description touted “action, science, adventure, romance, and intrigue,” so naturally I was excited to receive my copy.

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It was as page-turning as promised. Jumping from interview to interview, Neuvel weaves together a story of very dedicated (if not flawed) characters as they uncover and retrieve giant robot body parts across the globe. Together, the top secret team must decipher an unknown language and superior technology to determine how it works.

With every breakthrough, a new obstacle arises and questions remain. What is the robot’s purpose? Who left it here (and when)? Why are we finding it now? What should be done with it?

Neuvel’s interview style leaves very little room for much description beyond the immediate action of the story, and so food is barely mentioned in Sleeping Giants. In one instance, however, it makes an appearance; surprisingly, cinnamon rolls show up in a pivotal scene, with the potential to change one of the character’s outcomes.

While BOTM opted for cocktails when looking for a perfect food pairing – and to be fair, alcohol plays a more prominent role throughout the story – I went with the cinnamon rolls. Le Creme de la Crumb’s Mini Cinnamon Rolls may not seem like an obvious choice, but I disagree. Eating mini versions of regular food always has a way of making me feel just the littlest bit like a giant. (And now you can too!)

The best part about this recipe is that it’s easy and quick, especially for cinnamon rolls. (Most take at least twice as long in my experience.)

To get started, I let the yeast do it’s thing while I assembled the rest of my ingredients. After it was bubbling (a little over 5 minutes), I began incorporating the flour and salt, wishing I had a standing mixer but thankful at least for my new (and improved) hand mixer. Those dough hooks worked their magic and I ended up with a lovely little ball of dough.

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It hung out for about 10 more minutes, while I greased my muffin pans and whisked up the cinnamon mixture. Once I rolled it out, there was more than enough dough, which I dutifully cut into a 9 x 15 rectangle and covered in butter and cinnamon-sugar goodness.

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Then came some rolling and cutting (and a little re-rolling) until I formed these 24 little beauties.

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They baked. I whipped up the frosting. When the oven timer went off, I pulled a few out of the pans right away and drizzled on the frosting. I was hungry, and these looked delicious!

rolls

Mini Cinnamon Rolls

  • Servings: Yields 24
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From: Creme de la Crumb [Annotations from me]

Dough Ingredients

  • 1⅓ cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Filling Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons butter, completely softened
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Frosting Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • milk

Directions


1. Preheat oven to 375 and lightly grease a muffin pan. Add water, yeast, and honey to the bowl of a stand mixer fitting with a dough hook and stir to combine. Allow to rest for 5 minutes (mixture will rise and foam).
2. Add flour and salt to bowl. Turn the mixer on low and allow to mix until ingredients come together, then increase mixing speed to medium-low for 5 minutes. Remove dough from bowl and allow to rise for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface.
3. While dough is rising, prepare the filling by whisking together sugars in a bowl.
4. Use a floured rolling pin to roll dough into a 9×15 inch rectangle. Use a pizza cutter to trim off the sides if it isn’t perfectly rectangular. Spread softened butter over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture over the butter.
5. Tightly roll one 15-inch side (the long side) of the dough toward the other 15-inch side to create a long log. Pinch the seam so it closes off the log. Use a very sharp knife or a pizza cutter to cut the ends off and then to cut the log into 24 equal parts. Place each cinnamon roll in the greased muffin tins. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
6. While cinnamon rolls are baking, prepare the frosting. Cream together butter and cream cheese. Mix in the vanilla. Gradually add powdered sugar and mix until combined. Add milk 1 tablespoon at a time [I ended up using 6 tablespoons] until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency. When cinnamon rolls are finished baking, drizzle or spread frosting over rolls and serve.

[This recipe made a considerable amount of frosting – at least double the amount you need to cover the cinnamon rolls. I would recommend cutting this portion of the recipe in half, or planning something else delicious to use it for!]


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Sleeping Giants is the first novel in a series called Themis Files, and even though Neuvel does a good job of wrapping it up so you don’t have to read further if you don’t want to, his unexpected prologue left me wanting more. (The follow-up won’t release until 2017.)

book review, recipe

Bridge Daughter + Zucchini Pancakes

Bridge Daughter came to my attention when a friend, who happens to know author Jim Nelson, recommended it. Based on the concept alone, I knew I had to read it. Once I got started, I finished it in less than a day.

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A short dystopian novel, Bridge Daughter describes a world very similar to our own, with one exception – when a woman gives birth, she always gives birth to a bridge daughter. Fourteen years later, the bridge daughter gives birth to her actual child.

Hanna is one of the lucky ones. Raised by caring parents and taught to read, she grows up hoping to attend college and start a career. These dreams seem possible, until she learns that she, too, is a bridge daughter. Hanna must decide if she wants to accept her fate or become the woman she always dreamed she’d be.

A strong character, I found myself sympathizing with Hanna and rooting for her until the very end. The morning her mother forces her to make pancakes for breakfast, it becomes clear things are shifting for Hanna. Later on, pancakes are on the table again as her life takes another unexpected turn.

I’m sure Hanna made traditional breakfast pancakes, but since I decided to make them for dinner, I opted for a more savory recipe – adapted from Wonderland Kitchen’s Pancakes with a Heart of Gold. An apt name, I think, as Hanna counts on the goodness of many along the way.

I began by finding my sifter so that I could get my dry ingredients together and shredding my small zucchini, so it would be ready to go.

After combining all of the ingredients to make the pancake batter, I heated my griddle and put the first one on. Here it is with some cheddar, pre-flip.

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I always find pancake-making a little precarious – a flip too early can create a mess, just as a misplaced turnover can end up folding the little guy in half…or off the griddle onto the stovetop. Fortunately, no pancakes were harmed in the making of this post, so I call that a success.

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Zucchini Pancakes with a Heart of Cheddar

  • Servings: 2 (Yields 8 pancakes)
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Adapted from: Wonderland Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small zucchini (about 1 – 1 1/2 cups shredded)
  • 2 scallion, finely sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 8 thin slices of cheddar (I used sharp white cheddar)

Directions

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Set aside.
  2. Shred zucchini and blot well with paper towels to remove as much excess moisture as possible.
  3. Beat egg into the buttermilk and add this mixture, the oil, zucchini, scallions, and lemon zest to the dry ingredients. Whisk together until just incorporated. Allow to rest while bringing your skillet or griddle up to medium heat.
  4. When hot, grease lightly with a little butter. Drop batter by the roughly 1/3 cup onto griddle.
  5. When dry around the edges and ready to flip, place a slice of the cheese on top of the uncooked side and turn in over in the pan. Continue in this manner until all pancakes are made. I got eight 6-inch cakes.
  6. Serve hot topped with a pat of butter and a drizzle of honey.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

Once Upon a River + Cinnamon Bread

Confession: I’m probably in too many book clubs. My last post was about a novel I read for my book club, and this one is too. At this particular book club, we try our best to choose a restaurant we haven’t been to before that also reflects the culture or location of our latest selection. For August, we opted to vote on all Michigan-based books and ultimately went with Once Upon a River by Michigan author Bonnie Jo Campbell as our pick. (Our restaurant choice was a local brewery.)

cover

When I received this book as a gift about two years ago, I was initially excited. It’s a novel by someone from Michigan about characters in Michigan, and as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am nothing if not ridiculously proud of being a Michigander. That being said, I started it and couldn’t get past the first few chapters. So I set it aside, only to suggest it as a part of this vote. I don’t like giving up on books, and I wanted to give it another try (with some motivation to help me along).

Once Upon a River follows the journey of Margo Crane, a beautiful sixteen-year-old with a penchant for target shooting, a skill that ultimately changes the course of her life. As Margo sets off along the river in search of her mother, she does what she must to survive, both taking advantage of others and being taken advantage of by them. For me, Margo was a hard character to connect with – she wasn’t particularly personable and I questioned many of her decisions – but I warmed to her towards the end. She stumbles along the way, but she also grows stronger and more sure of herself.

Because of her ability to shoot a rabbit in the eye and her extensive knowledge of the world around her, Margo rarely goes hungry. She is able to hunt (and gut and skin) various game and to find edible plant-life along the way. Still, nothing beats the comforts of home, specifically her Aunt Joanna’s cinnamon bread.

Twelve times throughout the course of the story, Campbell mentions and describes this delicious bread. At one point, she writes, “Margo awoke dreaming of cinnamon bread and apple butter so vividly she could taste it.” I, too, found myself hankering for this delicious homemade bread.

So, despite it being 80+ degrees all week long, I decided to make some myself. (Thank goodness for central air!) I found a recipe for Amish Cinnamon Bread from Farm Girl Tails and got to work.

As I was assembling the ingredients, I realized my butter wasn’t softened, which is always the case when I am preparing to bake. Instead of making the mistake I usually make and softening (er, melting) it in the microwave, I remembered to use this handy Pinterest trick. I hadn’t tried it before, so I was a bit skeptical, but it worked like a charm! I left the butter sticks under the glasses for about 5 minutes, but 10 minutes would probably have been better.  

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After I was done creaming the (mostly) softened butter with the eggs and sugar, which I decided to do by hand rather than with a mixer, I added the remaining ingredients. The final mixing process was a bit slow-going, but I managed to work up the strength to get through it. Ta-da!

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I filled each loaf pan with 1/4 of the batter and sprinkled with 3/4 of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. It felt like a LOT of cinnamon and sugar. I covered it with the rest of the batter and cinnamon-sugar, swirled, and tossed it into the oven. Here’s the before:

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And, following 65 minutes of baking and 20 minutes of cooling, here’s the after:

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It was definitely best served warm from the oven. I personally wanted it to be more cinnamon-y, but everyone else who ate it didn’t seem to have the same complaint, so that was probably just me.   

Amish Cinnamon Bread

  • Servings: Yields 2 loaves
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From: Farm Girl Tails [Annotations from me]

Batter Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

Cinnamon Sugar Mixture

  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Directions

  1. Grease two 9×5 loaf pans. Set aside until needed.
  2. Cream together butter, 2 cups sugar, and eggs. Add milk, flour, and baking soda. Mix well.
  3. Put 1/4 of batter in each greased loaf pan.
  4. Mix the 2/3 cup sugar and cinnamon in separate bowl.
  5. Sprinkle 3/4 of the cinnamon mixture on top of the batter in each pan. Add remaining batter to pans; sprinkle the remaining cinnamon topping. Swirl with a knife.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees in a preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until tester comes clean. [I had to bake them for 65 minutes before they were finished.]
  7. Cool in pan for 20 minutes before removing from pan.


Excellent if eaten warm out of the oven [yes!] but great toasted with a little butter or cinnamon butter. [Margo would recommend it with apple butter.]