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book review, recipe

Lilac Girls + Poppy Seed Cake

No matter how many WWII novels I read or stories I hear, I’m still astonished at the atrocities that took place and how many people were able to overcome and survive such horrifying ordeals. Though I usually devour these books, which are often natural page-turners, I find them hard to get through mentally. Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls was no exception.

Inspired by the real Caroline Farriday and a group of Polish prisoners called “the Rabbits,” this novel tells the story of three women whose lives intersect at the Ravensbruck, the only Nazi concentration camp for women. In alternating chapters, we follow Kasia, a Polish teenager who becomes one of the Rabbits; Herta Oberhauser, a German doctor stationed at Ravensbruck; and Caroline, a New York City socialite, who does her best to assist in the war effort from abroad.

Though I’d be interested in finding out more about the real Caroline, I found her chapters to be the least compelling. Honestly, her storyline was the reason I couldn’t give this book a full 4 stars on Goodreads. (I would’ve given it 3.5 if Goodreads allowed it, but they don’t – one of my pet peeves.) Kasia’s and Herta’s chapters, on the other hand, had me turning the page constantly. I liked that Kelly told the story from such different points of view.

In one of the bright spots at Ravensbruck, Kasia and her sister receive a package from their father and unwrapped it to find not only chocolate and a sign of hope, but some poppy-seed cake as well. As she put it, “Polish cake would be good medicine.” I hadn’t heard of poppy seed cake before, but I knew it was the recipe to make this time around. I found one from Jenny Can Cook and set to work.

Upon starting the recipe, I realized I only had half as many poppy seeds as I needed. I’d bought one 2.6 oz bottle of poppy seeds at the grocery store, because the pickings were slim. If you find yourself in the same situation, you may want to pick up two containers, or if you’re trying this for the first time, you may want to make a smaller loaf instead, like I did. When I made it, I adjusted the recipe and made a half-sized loaf instead of the full recipe (I included the full recipe below).

First, I ground the poppy seeds 2 Tablespoons at a time, until they were moist and looked a lot like wet coffee grounds. I added boiling water to a small bowl and stirred in the poppy seeds until they were all moistened, letting them stand uncovered. Then, using the same grinder, I ground up my toasted almonds.

In a large bowl, I combined the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. To that I added, the warmed milk (slightly less than 120 degrees F since I was using active dry yeast), followed by the oil and the egg. Using an electric mixer, I beat it on high for about 2 minutes, and then added in the extra flour, beating it until it formed a mass. Mine was slightly sticky when I transferred it to the board, so I ended up adding about a Tablespoon more of flour (to my halved recipe). I should’ve taken a picture of my messy dough fingers, but it wouldn’t have been safe to grab my phone to do so. Dough everywhere!

I kneaded it and let it rest for 10 minutes while I combined the filling. To the poppy seeds, I added the ground almonds, lemon and orange zests, sugar and vanilla extract.

I rolled the dough out to about 5” x 6” (again with the halved recipe) and spread the filling on the top, almost to the edges.

Then, I carefully rolled it, placed it seam-side down, and tucked the ends under, placing it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I covered it with a cloth and left it untouched in a warm place (aka my upstairs on an 80-degree July day) for about an hour and a half.

I opted to top it with an egg wash and poppy seeds before baking, thinking the glaze might make it too sweet. It also didn’t seem like Papa’s bread for his girls would’ve included a glaze, but I could be wrong. If you prefer a glaze, see the recipe notes.

I baked it for slightly less than the recipe called for due to size, but even with halving the recipe, I think it could’ve used maybe 5 minutes longer (or 30 minutes total) in the oven. It was hard to let it cool for a long time once it came out of the oven, but trust me, it’s much better when it’s fully cooled. I also personally like the outside thirds of the bread better than the middle third.

I hope you enjoy! Have you read the Lilac Girls? What did you think?

Poppy Seed Cake

  • Servings: 1 loaf
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Dough Ingredients

  • 1½ cups bread (or all purpose) flour
  • 1 packet (2 tsp/7 gms/1/4 oz) yeast – instant or active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup 1% milk heated to 120-130° F for instant yeast (or 110-120°F for active dry)
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 egg
  • about ¾ cup extra flour

Filling Ingredients

  • 1 cup poppy seeds
  • ⅓ cup boiling water
  • ¼ cup ground toasted almonds (20 count)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of ½ a lemon and ½ an orange

Directions

  1. Grind poppy seeds (see note below). Place in a small bowl, stir in boiling water & let stand uncovered.
  2. Grind almonds and set aside.
  3. Place flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in large mixing bowl.
  4. Stir in milk followed by oil and egg.
  5. Beat on high for 2 minutes. Stir in extra flour until dough forms a mass.
  6. Place dough on floured board and knead 100 turns (about 2 minutes). Cover and let rest 10 minutes.
  7. Meantime, add ground almonds, sugar, vanilla and zests to poppy seeds.
  8. Roll dough into a 10 x 12 shape. Spread filling almost to edges, roll starting at 10-inch end and place on parchment-lined baking sheet, seam side down. Pinch and tuck ends under.
  9. Cover with a towel and rise in a warm spot for 1½ hours or until double in size.
  10. Before making, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with additional poppy seeds.
  11. Preheat oven to 350° F and bake for 35 minutes. Allow to cool fully before slicing and serving.

From: Jenny Can Cook

Instead of coating the top with poppy seeds, if you prefer a sweeter bread you can add a glaze. Allow baked cake to cool for 10 minutes and drizzle with glaze, made using 1 cup powdered sugar and about 2 Tablespoons milk, added slowly.

If using a spice grinder, grind seeds slowly, about 2 Tablespoons at a time, until they feel moist – about 10 seconds per each portion. Scoop out any that stick to the bottom of the grinder as you go. Once they are all ground, use the same grinder to grind the almonds.


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book review, of interest, recipe

Truly Madly Deeply + Grilled Shrimp and Corn

“It all began at a barbecue.” And so Liane Moriarty’s latest novel begins. It seemed innocent enough, but with a title like Truly Madly Guilty, I knew it wouldn’t stay that way for long. I have been a fan of Moriarty’s ever since I read her best-seller Big Little Lies in 2015. With the HBO series adaptation recently wrapping up, I was excited for more when my hold finally came through at the library.

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For those of you who have seen or read Big Little Lies, the setup is similar. It becomes quickly apparent that something bad has happened, but it’s less clear who it happened to and what exactly it is. Over the course of a slow, every-other-chapter build, the consequences of a normal, spur-of-the-moment backyard barbeque become all too real.

I would consider some of Moriarty’s other novels to be quick-paced beach reads, despite her ability to sneak tough, sometimes dark subjects into an otherwise light, reality TV-style wrapper. Though the title Truly Madly Guilty definitely screams “get out your sunnies!” I didn’t get the same vibe this time.

The plot moved too slowly for me, and it’s real strength was in its character building. The relationships were messy and complicated in a way that felt authentic because it wasn’t over-the-top. By the end of the novel, I definitely appreciated its subtlety though it wasn’t what I expected going in.

But, since it all started with a barbecue, I used that as my recipe inspiration. And, since it took place in Australia, I couldn’t resist making (get your Aussie accent ready!) shrimp on the barbie. I was also mostly just excited to have an excuse to use our new grill on the deck.

I found a simple recipe for Lemon Garlic Shrimp Kabobs from one of my faves Damn Delicious, and even though she bakes hers in the oven, I was easily able to adapt it to a grill. Alongside Grilled “Crack Corn,” this could easily impress at your next outdoor get-together! The best part about both of these recipes is that they don’t require a lot prep and they grill up in under 15 minutes.

To start, I shucked my corn and speared my shrimp and lemons onto the skewers. (I used metal, but if you’re using bamboo or wooden skewers, make sure you soak them first.) I chose to do a lemon slice on each end and 4-5 shrimp in the middle, but you can mix it up however you think it works best.

Then, Scott put the corn on the grill, since it took slightly longer than the shrimp, while I made the sauce for the corn and the shrimp.

To make sauce for the corn, I simply combined already melted butter with brown sugar, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. I whisked it up really well and brought it outside to the grill. Scott began basting the corn and put the shrimp on.

Back in the kitchen, I made the sauce/glaze for the shrimp skewers. In a small saucepan, I melted some butter. To that, I added lemon juice, minced garlic and dried basil, oregano and thyme. I also seasoned it with salt and pepper – I used a generous pinch and a turn or two of freshly ground black pepper. After a couple of minutes, it was fragrant and ready.

We allowed the corn to cook while the shrimp finished up, even though it was basically finished – a little extra color never hurt anyone. Be sure your shrimp is fully cooked through, but be careful not to overcook it as it can be tough and chewy. The shrimp should be a nice pink color.

Both recipes were really delicious and really easy. Perfect for entertaining a small group, or a relaxing summer evening outside. I hope everyone has a safe, sunny Memorial Day weekend! See you next week!

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Lemon Garlic Shrimp Kabobs

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • 1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2-4 lemons, thinly sliced and halved
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp dried basil
  • 2 TBS chopped fresh parsley leaves

Directions

  1. Thread shrimp and lemon halves onto skewers. In a medium saucepan, over medium high heat, melt butter. Stir in lemon juice, garlic, oregano, thyme and basil until fragrant, about 2 minutes; season with salt and pepper, to taste. (If you have a side burner on your grill, you can do this while the shrimp cooks.)
  2. Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Oil grates and add shrimp.
  3. Grill each side for about 3-4 minutes on each side, until cooked through.
  4. Serve shrimp skewers immediately, brushed with butter mixture and garnished with parsley, if desired.


From: Damn Delicious

Crack Corn

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • 6 ears corn, husked
  • 3 TBS brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • lime wedges, for squeezing

Directions

  1. Heat grill to high. Oil grates and add corn. Grill for 5 minutes, turning occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, add brown sugar, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and melted butter. Whisk together until combined.
  3. Baste corn, while grilling, until totally slathered in crack sauce. Grill until charred and tender, approximately 5 minutes more.
  4. Squeeze with lime and serve.


book review, recipe

Small Great Things + Bite-Size Appetizer Trio

When I sat down with Jodi Picoult’s latest novel Small Great Things, I admit I hadn’t read a description. One of my clients had recommended it to me last last year, so I requested it from the library and sort of forgot about it. It came in a couple of weeks ago and I dove right in without expectation.

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Right off the bat, this quote hit me. It felt so on-the-nose about the world we’re currently living in; I knew the right book had found me again.

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The narrative began, and I was immediately engrossed. I was also often uncomfortable. Three points of view bring this story to life – a black nurse, a white supremacist man, and a white lawyer who “doesn’t see color.” It isn’t shy about race or racism. The topic is the crux of the novel, the reason the story is being told. (Make sure to read the Author’s Note at the end.)

Ruth Jefferson doesn’t realize when she walks into the hospital room of proud new parents that she’s walking into a room of white supremacists. Despite her 20 years of experience, she is prohibited from having contact with them or their baby because of the color of her skin. The next day, when another nurse has no choice but to leave Ruth alone with the baby, he goes into cardiac arrest. She is forced to choose between obeying orders and her duty as a nurse, and ultimately, she is blamed for the baby’s death.

During the course of Ruth’s trial, each character examines their lives, their beliefs and the world around them. It’s intense and it will make you examine yourself and our world as well. Like any story told about race – real or imagined – it made me think, and I still can’t stop recommending this book to everyone I encounter.

To go along with Small Great Things, I opted to make a trio of bite-size appetizers. I wanted to make a “well-balanced” variety, so I opted for meatballs, spinach artichoke dip bites, and mini crab-stuffed mushrooms. All of them were easy and could, for the most part, be prepped ahead of time. Of course, they were delicious too.

I started with making the filling for the spinach artichoke dip bites. I combined my spinach (make sure it’s thawed and thoroughly drained), chopped artichoke hearts, garlic, garlic powder, salt and parmesan cheese.

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Then, I added the softened cream cheese and half of the shredded cheese, ground some black pepper over the bowl and mixed it all together. I set the filling aside while I cut the crescent roll dough into squares. I sprayed the mini muffin tin with cooking spray and popped one square in each opening, before filling it with the spinach artichoke mixture. I didn’t stress out about it too much – just made sure each one was amply filled and had a good sprinkle of shredded cheese on top.

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These should bake in a 375 degree oven for 15-17 minutes. After they’re finished, allow them to cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from the muffin tin.

Then, I moved on to the mushrooms. First, I cleaned my little army of mini bella mushrooms. (These are my favorite kind of mushroom because they have great flavor, but feel free to use white button mushrooms if you prefer.)

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The original recipe recommended that you toss the mushrooms in melted butter until they’re well-coated. I did that, but I took out of my recipe below. They were a little too moist, in my opinion. If you’d like to lightly brush the tops only with olive oil (or melted butter) that is probably sufficient.

I lined them all up on a foil-covered sheet pan while I made the filling. To make the the crab stuffing, take a medium bowl and combine the lump crab meat, cream cheese, shredded cheese, Worcestershire sauce and green onions.

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Then, I stuffed each mushroom with as much filling as would fit. It’s okay to be generous here – I had them all a little over-filled because the filling cooks down as it bakes. Top each mushroom with the parmesan cheese.

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The mushrooms should bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. After they are heated through and the cheese is melted, turn on the broiler for between 2-5 minutes, watching closely so they don’t burn. The goal is to get the tops to be a nice lightly golden brown.

While everything else was baking, I began on the meatballs. I combined all of the ingredients for the sauce – peach preserves, finely diced chipotle peppers, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a high-sided skillet.

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It turned it up to medium so that it could come up to a simmer and allowed it to cook at that temperature for about 5 minutes. Then, I added the meatballs and covered the pan.

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The meatballs cooked for another 25 minutes. I stirred them a few times, making sure they were well-coated and cooking evenly. Serve warm.

Spinach Artichoke Dip Bites

  • Servings: 24 pieces
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Ingredients

  • 1 9-oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 6-oz jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • ½ tsp minced garlic
  • 2 TBS shredded parmesan cheese
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • pepper to taste (freshly ground)
  • 1 can seamless crescent roll dough

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a bowl, combine spinach, artichoke hearts, garlic, garlic powder, salt and parmesan cheese. Blend in cream cheese and half of your shredded cheese. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  3. Using a rolling pin, lay out dough on a cutting board and lightly stretch to 8×12. (It should already be close to this straight out of the package.) Cut down into 2-inch squares, so you have 24 squares total.
  4. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin and place a square in each slot, gently pushing down to create an indent. (You do not need to mold it to the cup.) In most cases, the dough should naturally fall into the cups.
  5. Scoop about 1 Tablespoon of your spinach mixture on top of each square and gently push in. (Bites will mold to the tin while baking.) If there is any remaining mixture, add to cups that look less full than others.
  6. Sprinkle the remaining Monterey Jack cheese over the tops of each bite.
  7. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from the muffin tin.

Adapted from: Lil’ Luna

Don’t worry about making sure your squares are perfectly uniform. I had a whole variety of some that looked more rectangle-y, some that were small and some that were larger. They all tasted delicious.


Mini Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

  • Servings: 80-100 mushrooms
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Ingredients

  • 80-100 mini Bella mushrooms (5-6 containers)
  • 8 ounces lump crab meat, drained
  • 8 ounces whipped cream cheese
  • 12 ounces (1½ cups) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 bunches chopped green onions
  • 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • 4-6 TBS shredded parmesan cheese
  • olive oil or melted butter, as desired

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Wash mushrooms and remove the stems. If desired, lightly brush the tops only with olive oil or melted butter. Set aside.
  3. Mix remaining all ingredients except the parmesan cheese.
  4. Stuff mushrooms with the crab-cheese mixture. Top with the parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake mushrooms at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Broil for 2-5 minutes, watching to ensure they don’t burn. Mushrooms should be slightly golden brown on top.

Adapted from: Crazy Jamie

Bonus Recipe: If you have any of the filling leftover (as I did when I made these following the original recipe), it makes great crab quesadillas. Just warm tortilla(s) in a lightly greased skillet over medium heat. Add filling to one half of the quesadilla and fold over. Once the bottom is lightly golden, flip. Wait for that side to become lightly browned as well and ensure the filling is heated through. Serve with hot sauce, salsa, guacamole, or whatever toppings you prefer!


Chipotle Peach Meatballs

  • Servings: 60 meatballs
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Ingredients

  • 18 oz peach preserves
  • 3-4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely diced
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 32 oz, or about 60 frozen cocktail meatballs (see notes)

Directions

  1. Add peach preserves, diced chipotle peppers, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper into a medium to large high-sided skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Cooking in two batches, add half (about 30) of the meatballs and cover. Let simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for an additional 25 minutes, or until meatballs are thawed.
  3. Using tongs so the majority of the sauce stays in the skillet, transfer the meatballs to your serving container and keep warm. Repeat step 2.
  4. Add second batch of meatballs and sauce to serving bowl. Serve warm.

Adapted from: The Culinary Compass

If you have multiple meatball options in your grocery store, opt for Homestyle as they’ll have less seasoning than Italian (which were the two options at mine).

If you prefer your meatballs saucier, you can use 18 oz (approximately 32) meatballs instead and cook in one batch only.