Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread

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My love of books started at a very young age. In one of my earliest memories, I must have been three years old, my parents had friends over and they were all sitting outside our house having a drink. It must have been past my bedtime but for some reason my mom had put me in my parents’ bed and let me sit there by myself and go through a picture book somebody had given me as a gift (maybe the friends who had come over?). The memory is very fuzzy but I remember a few things: how huge the bed seemed to me, how thrilling it was to be sitting in it, the safety I felt from the voices of my parents just outside their bedroom window, and the feeling of holding the book in my hands and flipping through the pages. I couldn’t read yet but it felt so exciting to hold this object in my hand that was filled with amazing pictures (and weird symbols I couldn’t understand) that changed every time I flipped a page.DSC04884

With my mom’s help, I learned to read a year later when I was four, so that when I started first grade at five years old (we started earlier back then), I could read comfortably and by the time I was in my early teens, when my birthday came around, the gift I wished for the most from people who’d come to my birthday party were books. I read everything I could get my hands on and with no access to a library, I was desperate for new books. When I was younger, I wanted fairy tale books, but by my mid-teens I was fully into literary fiction and science fiction books, a love that endures to this day.

Today’s recipe is actually from a little kids’ book called “Cranberry Thanksgiving.” I had never read this book as a kid (given that it’s a book about Thanksgiving, it was obviously never translated in Greek) but I found out about it and this recipe that comes from it from Steve’s sister Christine. She told me she makes this cake every year and that her three boys love it. The cake is peculiar in that it’s made using a method usually used for biscuits and scones, by cutting the butter into flour. So, you can think of it as a giant, golden scone, studded with red cranberries. The result is beautiful and delicious and yet more reason to love books and what they have to offer.

This is the last post for 2016, a year few people will look back on with affection. Let’s hope that 2017 proves to be kinder to us. Happy new year to everyone and see you again in January.DSC04901

Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread – Slightly adapted from Cranberry Thanksgiving

Note: The original recipe calls for equal amounts of cranberries and raisins. That’s what I used in the cake you see in the photos. However, I’ve made it with only cranberries and we prefer it that way much more. Feel free to go either way.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg
1 teaspoon orange zest
3/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups light raisins (or substitute with fresh cranberries, as above)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper to help you getting the cake out.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. With a pastry blender or with your fingers, cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, orange peel, and orange juice and then add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until mixture is evenly moist. Fold in cranberries and raisins (or only cranberries). The batter will be thick and there will be small pieces of butter throughout.

Spoon into the loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick nested in the center comes out clean. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack.

Chocolate Babka

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No matter how much I try to reason with the results of this election, no matter how much I try to tell myself that this is not the end of the world, that four years isn’t enough time to reverse all the progress we’ve made in the last eight, my mind keeps stubbornly coming back to this: Once again, a smart, competent, incredibly qualified woman lost the job to an unqualified, insulting, brutish man.

No matter how much I try to understand what drove so many people to vote for him, no matter how much I try to tell myself that perhaps I (we) really weren’t listening to them, didn’t understand their plight, that their fears and hopes were not taken as seriously as they should have been, my brain keeps repeating this: Half of the voters (slightly less than half to be exact) either chose to ignore or chose to reward (with the Presidency!) speech and behavior that expressed hate for just about everyone other than white, able-bodied, heterosexual, Christian men.
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And yet, life goes on. So be good to one another. Continue to defend the rights of those who fought so hard for them. Take time to enjoy those that you love and the things that bring you joy. Remain hopeful but vigilant. Cook and eat great food. Make this chocolate babka and forget all your worries for those few minutes when you bite into a soft, luxurious slice of chocolate heaven.

And always remember: progress never happens in a straight line.
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Chocolate Babka – Adapted from Bon Appétit

Ingredients:

½ cup whole milk, warmed
1 ¼-ounce envelope active dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons)
¼ cup granulated sugar, plus more
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoon turbinado sugar

Directions:

Pour milk into a measuring glass or small bowl; sprinkle yeast and a pinch of granulated sugar over milk. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Whisk egg, egg yolk, and remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Whisk in yeast mixture.

Combine salt and 2 cups flour in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add egg mixture and beat on low speed until nearly incorporated, about 30 seconds. Switch to dough hook and add 7 Tbsp. butter; beat on medium-low until butter is completely incorporated, about 8–10 minutes. The dough will be sticky.

Using a spatula or a spoon, scrape dough onto a lightly floured surface and using a spatula or dough scraper, fold it several times from the edge over the top, until very smooth (dough will still be wet and a little sticky). Transfer to a large buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1½–2 hours, then chill 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°. Generously butter a 8½x4½” loaf pan. Heat chocolate, cocoa, 2 tbsp. butter, 1 tbsp. granulated sugar, ¼ tsp. cinnamon, and ⅛ tsp. salt in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until chocolate and butter are melted and mixture is smooth. (Alternatively, microwave on medium power 1 minute, stirring halfway through.)

Turn out chilled dough onto a clean lightly floured surface. Roll out to a 22×12″ rectangle and orient so a long side is facing you. Using an offset spatula, spread chocolate filling over dough to extend to the edges. Roll up dough away from you like a jelly roll, pulling lightly on it as you roll to maintain thickness. (Use a metal bench scraper if needed to help dough release from surface.)
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Cut log in half crosswise. Set halves so they are side by side and touching. A long side should still be facing you. Place one half over the other to make an X, then twist the two ends on one side twice. Repeat on opposite side. (You should have a total of 4 twists.) Transfer bread to pan, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 30 minutes.

Whisk egg and cream in a small bowl and brush egg wash over loaf. Sprinkle top with turbinado sugar.

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Bake babka, rotating pan halfway through, until golden brown, 50–60 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let babka cool in pan 15 minutes, then turn out onto rack, running a paring knife around edges to help loosen if needed. Let cool completely before slicing.

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Clementine and Olive Oil Muffins

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Everyone has their favorite candy from their childhood. I have several. There was the luscious Galaxy milk chocolate bar. It was more expensive than others, so it was a rare treat. There were the pink and white individual marshmallows, so intensely sweet that they burned the back of my throat. But there was one sugary treat that I always loved. It was a mandarin-flavored hard candy that came in a pack of around ten of them. It was tantalizingly tart and sweet and it had this perfect, completely artificial mandarin flavor that I adored. It seems to have completely disappeared from the market. I wonder if I tried it now, decades later, if I would still enjoy the chemically-created taste that I used to love.dsc05322

You don’t need to worry about any artificial flavor with these muffins. They get theirs from clementine zest and juice, so it’s a lot more subtle than a hard candy. I had seen this recipe for olive oil muffins on David Lebovitz’s website and when I opened the fridge and saw a few clementines that needed to be eaten soon, I decided to adapt the recipe to use them instead of an orange. The result is a moist, not too sweet muffin, with a subtle taste of clementine. The slight bitterness and sweet tartness of the clementines combines really well with the olive oil. If I hadn’t made them myself, I would have had a hard time guessing what that mysterious flavor was when I bit into them.  They are nothing like my childhood favorite candy, and that’s a good thing.
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Clementine and Olive Oil Muffins – Adapted from David Lebovitz

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cups (185g) flour
1 cup (200g) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (180ml) fruity extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup (180ml) whole milk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tablespoon freshly grated clementine or tangerine zest
1/3 cup fresh clementine juice

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Put liners in a 12-muffin pan.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, olive oil, milk, eggs, zest, and juice.

3. Add the dry ingredients in the wet ingredients. Stir them together with a flexible spatula until they are just combined but do not overmix. There may be some minor lumps in the batter, which are fine.

4. Fill the muffin molds 2/3rds to 3/4ths full of batter and bake until they just feel set in the center and the tops are golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool a bit before serving.

Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake

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When we fly to Paris from New York, always on an overnight flight, we have a routine. We pack lightly so that we don’t have to check in our luggage. After we get through security at the airport, we buy a bottle of water to share on the plane. Once we are on the plane and we take off, I watch all the episodes of Friends that are available (they are still so funny and so much fun to watch). We eat our dinner (always the Hindu Vegetarian meal option – it’s by far the best airplane food on United Economy), drink some wine, take something to help my nerves (I am a very nervous flyer), put on ear plugs and eye masks and try to sleep.DSC05282

After a few hours of fitful sleep, the cabin lights come on and we are all awakened for “breakfast.” We used to dread the soggy, microwaved sorry excuse for a croissant that filled the cabin with a smell of fake butter and warm plastic. So a long time ago, we added something to our routine: at the New York airport, we visit Starbucks and buy two slices of their lemon pound cake. As everyone grudgingly wakes up and the flight attendants pass out those god forsaken croissants, we politely decline and sink our teeth into the delicate crumb of the lemon pound cake, savoring its lemony glaze.

This recipe for a lemon poppy seed cake is an even better, homemade version of that Starbucks lemon cake. It’s made with olive oil so it’s less rich (and better for you), and the glaze is thinner and more subtle. The poppy seeds add a crunch and a tiny bit of a nutty flavor. It makes a wonderful breakfast treat no matter where in the world you are or traveling to.DSC05046

Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake – Slightly adapted from the New York Times

Ingredients:

1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
zest of 2 lemons
1 cup sugar
½ cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
⅔ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
4 teaspoons lemon juice

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch loaf pan and line with parchment paper, leaving extra paper on both sides to help you lift cake out of the pan.

In a bowl, combine lemon zest and sugar and rub with your fingers until it looks like wet sand. Whisk in buttermilk, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, eggs, and olive oil. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and poppy seeds. Add dry ingredients into the batter and mix until combined, being careful not to overmix.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in pan until warm to the touch, then lift out of the pan onto a baking rack set over a rimmed baking sheet.

Whisk together 4 teaspoons lemon and the confectioners’ sugar. Use a pastry brush to spread glaze evenly over top and sides of cake. Cool completely before slicing.

Blueberry Lemon Muffins

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One of the most common questions people ask me when I tell them that I love to cook is “what type of food do you like to cook the most?” I am always flummoxed by the question. There were times in the past when I would have been easily able to answer it, like the time in my life when I was obsessed with Chinese food or the period when I explored French cooking. But the truth is, I no longer have a favorite type of food or cuisine that I enjoy the most. I usually choose what to make based on a few simple guidelines. Sometimes, I try a new recipe because I am intrigued by its ingredients or because it uses a method I’ve not used before. Other times, I cook or bake something that I am craving, like passion fruit ice cream because I really want its mysterious tropical flavor, or my mom’s pastitsio because I miss the flavors of my childhood.DSC05179

But most often, I really like to cook with what’s in season. After all, there’s no better time for squash soup than the fall and no better time for peach pie braided bread than late summer. When it comes to berries, fortunately the season lasts a long time. Though it’s supposed to be over by early summer, we still have delicious blueberries and raspberries for sale. And nothing goes better with blueberries than lemon. These muffins are perfect for breakfast. They are mildly sweet and a little tart. The addition of cornmeal makes them hearty and less cake-like. And of course, there are the blueberries. You could make these muffins with frozen blueberries any time of year, but take advantage of the fresh ones out now. They make the muffins so much better.DSC05187

Blueberry Lemon Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients:

1½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
1 lemon
1 cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla
turbinado sugar, optional; for topping

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 425°F. Lightly grease the cups of a standard 12-cup muffin pan. Or line the cups with muffin papers.

Whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add the blueberries and gently mix with a spoon. This will prevent the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of the muffins.

Place the sugar in a large bowl and using a microplane, zest the lemon over the sugar. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until combined. Add milk, oil, eggs, lemon juice, and vanilla and whisk together until thoroughly combined.

Dump the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients. Gently fold together with a spatula. Careful not to overmix. The batter will be lumpy with a few streaks of flour left.

Fill the cups of the muffin pan three-quarters full. Sprinkle tops with turbinado sugar, if desired.

Bake the muffins for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean. Remove them from the oven, and as soon as you can handle them turn them out of the pan onto a rack to cool.

Blueberry Coconut Cake

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One of my favorite cooking challenges is using up food that’s about to expire or go bad, in ways that are unexpected or inventive. Last week, my challenge was tricky. I had blueberries that were almost past their prime, shredded coconut that had expired a month ago but seemed fine (I keep it in the fridge, which keeps it fresh longer), and some coconut yogurt that was about to expire. DSC05079

That last one is interesting. It’s a yogurt made with coconut milk, using probiotic bacteria, just like with milk-based yogurt. I had bought it for my vegan friend Lisa who was visiting us, but she didn’t finish it. I tried eating it myself but I found it too rich for my taste, a little like eating thickened coconut cream. So I figured that I could put all three together in a cake. Since I had the coconut yogurt, I decided to adapt the yogurt cake recipe that I love and really amp up the coconut flavor with the shredded coconut. I tasted a single blueberry with a little bit of coconut and found them compatible, so I threw the berries in as well.DSC05082

The result was delicious. The cake is tender and not too sweet. It has a delicate coconut flavor that’s expanded by the toasted coconut topping. The blueberries add a little tartness and a beautiful color contrast. Not only did I not have to throw anything out, we ended up with a breakfast treat that we devoured the next morning. If you can’t find coconut yogurt, you can use regular whole-milk yogurt. It won’t have as strong of a coconut taste but it will still be delicious.DSC05098

Blueberry Coconut Cake

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (135g) blueberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened), plus 2 tablespoons for topping
3/4 cup coconut yogurt (not coconut-flavored yogurt; if unavailable, replace with whole milk Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat 9″x5″ loaf pan with a little vegetable oil and cover with parchment paper leaving some overhang on both of the long sides.

Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and kosher salt in a medium bowl. Add blueberries and stir with a spoon.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, shredded coconut, yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Fold in dry ingredients and blueberries just to blend.

Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of shredded coconut on top. Bake until a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 60-70 minutes. If coconut topping is getting too brown, cover with tin foil.

Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert onto rack and let cool completely.

Vegan Chocolate Banana Muffins

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Our friend Lisa visited us from Florida last weekend. She’s my formerly omnivore friend who became vegan and broke my heart (though, of course, I still love her to death). We have been friends since our college days and we hung out over the weekend with yet another college friend, Brad, who lives in NY with his partner Denny. Even though we’ve known each other for 23 years, we still never run out of things to talk about. On Saturday, we took the train to the New York Botanic Gardens to see the cherry trees but we were a little too early. The majority of them were still bare, though a few were in full bloom, resplendent in pink and white flowers. We walked around, took pictures and then hopped in a cab to go back to our apartment for Mai Tais and dinner.DSC05041

With everyone’s help in the kitchen, I prepared a full vegan meal that ended up being very satisfying, even for the non-vegans among us. I started us off with crispy broccoli in black vinegar and then served a sweet potato, kohlrabi, and peanut stew, topped with some Korean gochujang paste and crushed peanuts. We finished with freshly baked vegan chocolate chip cookies. I tried the recipe from Ovenly for the first time and though we ended up eating two cookies each, I will just say that I will stick with my favorite non-vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe in the future.

But the real hit was breakfast. I saw this recipe for vegan chocolate banana muffins many months ago on Chocolate & Zucchini and saved it for Lisa’s next visit. I finally made them last Friday and we ate them throughout the weekend. I can’t believe I’m going to say this about a vegan baked good, but these muffins are amazing! They are just dense enough that they feel substantial and not cake-y, but they are delightfully moist and tender. The flavor is pure banana and chocolate, along with some deeper notes from the coconut sugar that I added to the recipe. And the turbinado sugar on top adds a playful crunch to each bite. Altogether, they are really irresistible.
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Vegan Chocolate Banana Muffins – Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini

Ingredients:

130 grams (1 cup) all-purpose flour
130 grams (1 cup) rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
50 grams (1/4 cup) white sugar
100 grams (1/2 cup) coconut sugar
150 grams (5 1/3 ounces) good-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
3 very ripe bananas, (about 350 grams or 3/4 pound without the skin)
60 ml (1/4 cup) vegetable oil
60 ml (1/4 cup) virgin and unrefined coconut oil
2 tablespoons brandy or cognac (substitute with apple juice if you do not want to use alcohol)
1/4 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar for topping

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a 12-muffin muffin pan with muffin liners (or lightly grease and flour the muffin pan).

In a medium bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, salt, sugars, and chopped chocolate. Stir well to combine. Set aside. In a second medium bowl, use a fork to mash the bananas with the oils, brandy/cognac, and vinegar until thoroughly combined.

Add the wet ingredients into the dry ones and use a spatula to mix together until no trace of flour remains, without overmixing.

Scoop into the muffin molds, and sprinkle the tops with the turbinado sugar. Bake for 30 minutes, until the tops are nicely browned. Let cool on a rack before serving.