Love letter #8, herbs

Growing up, I wasn’t surrounded by cooks, and that’s okay. I learned many other valuable lessons from my family that don’t involve cooking. I’ve always have known that I’ve wanted to cook and cook well, however. I remember watching old dubbed “Iron Chef” episodes or “Two Fat Ladies” and knowing that’s what I wanted to do.

When I moved out of my parent’s house and into an apartment, I wanted to cook for myself, but was slightly lost and misguided. All that Food Network watching didn’t prepare me in the way that I had hoped. I considered myself a cook. I made spaghetti and jarred sauce! Bagged Caesar salad! Mashed potatoes! Chili from a can! I look back on that time with both nostalgia and embarrassment. But that’s okay, that’s the point—you have to learn.

I remember making chicken tortilla soup and adding lots of sour cream while it was still boiling away. I was left with soup with completely curdled sour cream. And I had no idea. I happily ate it and went on my way. I’ve had my fair share of “Pinterest Meals”. That site is definitely keeping the crock-pot and cream cheese business alive. It’s very attractive to people. Throw three different types of dairy products, chicken breast, and potatoes in and you’ve got a creamy, unappetizing-looking dinner ready in six hours.

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That’s the reality of cooking though; it can be as easy or as complicated as you want. Just because those Pinterest meals are unappealing to me, doesn’t mean they aren’t meeting someone else’s dinner needs. Cooking is always a learning process.

All of that being said, the turning point for me was when I started using fresh herbs. It was such a foreign concept to me, but once I started, it made total sense and completely changed my cooking game.

Adding herbs creates flavor that no other seasonings can. They can add depth of flavor, brightness, acidity, etc. It’s very rare that I cook something without adding fresh herbs.

What’s also so amazing about herbs is that they are so easy to grow! In an apartment or house, large garden or no garden, you can grow just about any kind you’d like. They are easy to maintain, and you never have to worry about your store being out of basil when you’re making your marinara.

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Besides Alex, caprese salads are what I love most. Last week when we were driving home from vacation, we even stopped out of our way to a waterfront restaurant so I could indulge my craving. They are quintessentially summer. Fresh, homegrown tomatoes, sweet basil, tangy balsamic, creamy mozzarella. It all comes together into a beautiful, simple, yet complex dish.

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Sometimes I like to use cherry tomatoes and swap out mozzarella for feta.

IMG_2264Adding prosciutto and a touch of olive oil makes it a complete meal and the perfect beach picnic.

My morning breakfast always consists of herbs, namely chives and dill. Lots of herbs piled high on avocado, with or without a sunny side up egg, and some sriracha to add some heat. It’s easy, comforting, and so fresh. Chives add classic yet mild onion flavor and dill is always perfect with eggs and salmon.

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I use a lot of dill in this. It may be way too much for some people. Just add it to taste. 

A great method of sunny side up egg cooking can be found here at the Serious Eats website.

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Thyme is piney, peppery, and a touch lemony. It reminds me of a milder version of rosemary. It’s perfect in sauces, in a roasted chicken, or a creamy dish. It’s the perfect addition to this Onion and Fontina Galette.

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Fontina is an Italian cheese. It’s soft, creamy, and buttery. It’s similar to mild gruyere or provolone cheese.

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Make a piecrust using this recipe of mine here.

IMG_6744Make a roux with flour and heavy cream

IMG_6745IMG_6746Add cheese, then onion mixture, and the rest of the cheese mixture.

IMG_6752Bake, then serve immediately, garnished with more thyme leaves.

Mint, like basil, is good in dessert or heartier meals. I love Ina’s Couscous with Pine Nuts and Mint.

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Ina’s Deconstructed Strawberry Shortcake is divine, and made even better with torn mint leaves on top. Homemade whipped cream, strawberries with liqueur, and fresh mint from the garden. There is no better dessert.

Alex’s favorite dish with herbs is simple Herbed Basmati Rice. He requests it for lunch very often! And I make it because it is simple for me, flavorful for him, and I add lots of chopped spinach to up the nutrition factor. It’s a rice dish I don’t feel guilty giving him.

The bottom line is whether you’re just starting to branch out of Pinterest-style crock-pot cooking, or have been cooking for decades, herbs will almost always improve your meal. Growing your own herbs, much like cooking, will reward you with a sense of accomplishment. You’ll save money, too. If you’re trying to up your elegance level, challenge yourself to use fresh herbs in every dinner you make this week. You’ll be convinced in no time.

Hannah’s Pinterest

Caprese salad

  • Fresh tomatoes
  • Mozzarella, sliced or pulled off
  • Fresh basil, julienned
  • Good, aged balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Prosciutto, optional

Chop or slice tomatoes. Toss with mozzarella and basil. Add balsamic, salt and pepper to taste.

Thyme and Fontina Galette

Link here

Avocado toast

  • Slice of sourdough
  • 1/2 avocado, mashed
  • 1 egg
  • Handful of dill, roughly chopped
  • Chives, chopped
  • Sriracha to taste
  • Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

Lightly toast the bread. Mash the avocado onto the toast. Cook the egg sunny side up and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Add dill and chives. Finish with sriracha.

 

 

 

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Love letter #7, cinnamon rolls

Mornings are my favorite part of any day. There’s something calming about each day beginning and the thought that anything can happen. Though mornings usually lead into normal days, the idea that each day could bring something different is what I love. Fittingly, breakfast is mine and Alex’s favorite meal. I love any kind of breakfast food, but generally during the week we have a heartier meal. Alex has full-fat Greek yogurt with granola, and I have a slice of toast with avocado, arugula, egg, and lots of dill.

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I enjoy my breakfast every day, but weekend breakfasts are what I look forward to throughout the week. I’m a pastry fiend. To me, there is something so comforting about waking up late, staying in bed, and eating a warm, sweet pastry. Alex isn’t much for sweets, but anytime I make these cinnamon rolls, he’s up earlier than normal.

The truth is, I love store-bought pastries. From farmer’s markets to vacations, my trips all revolve around them. However, buying pastries at the store does not make your house smell amazing and buying macarons doesn’t have the same feeling of accomplishment as making them. So, on weekends, I make them. These cinnamon rolls in particular are easy, you do all the steps the night before, so the morning of you can just bake them and enjoy a stress-free morning.

When a recipe calls for warm milk or water for your yeast to be added, that’s generally between 110-115 degrees F.

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Make sure the melted/softened butter is not too hot when you add it, you don’t want that temperature to affect the yeast.

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The best place to leave your dough to rise is in your oven with the light on. The oven light helps bring the oven to around 70 degrees. Cover with a damp towel. It usually takes about an hour for dough to double in size.

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Your counters are your best tools with this. Just make sure they are very clean. Flour them and roll the dough out. Be careful when using a knife to not scratch the surface when you’re slicing.

IMG_6101Make sure there is plenty of flour on your surface, so when you roll the dough it doesn’t stick.

Add butter and cinnamon sugar mixture all around the dough and up to the borders. It needs to be completely covered.

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Roll it up carefully, going back and forth like you are playing the piano from one end to the other.

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You can use a knife or dental floss to cut through the dough. If you use a knife, which I did, just make sure it is very sharp.

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After being in the fridge over night.

If the rolls start to get too brown before the insides are cooked, add aluminum foil to the top. I generally do this with five minutes left to spare.

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Add the icing when the rolls are just out of the oven, so it melts and flows into the crevices.

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Weekends are a big deal at our house because we do nothing–and that is what makes them special. Stay in bed on Sunday with your french pressed coffee, these cinnamon rolls, and a good book. Push Monday out of your mind for a little while longer. Enjoy.

Hannah’s Cinnamon Rolls

Dough

  •             4 cups flour
  •             1 tbsp active dry yeast
  •             1 cup warm milk
  •             2 eggs
  •             1 stick butter, melted
  •             1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  •             ¼ tsp salt

Icing

  •             2 oz cream cheese
  •             ¼ cup heaving whipping cream
  •             1 ¼ cups powdered sugar
  •             1 tbsp vanilla

Cinnamon filling

  •             1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  •             3 tbsp plus 1 tsp cinnamon
  •             1/3 stick melted butter

Add yeast to milk. Let proof for five minutes. Combine all dough ingredients together and mix with wooden spoon or spatula. Don’t over mix. Allow to rise until a little over double in size, an hour.

Mix all cinnamon filling ingredients together and set aside.

Beat icing ingredients together. Add powdered sugar in slowly. Add more or less heavy whipping cream depending on desired consistency. Refrigerate overnight, take out of fridge 30 minutes before icing.

Once risen, roll out dough onto floured surface. Roll out into rectangle-ish shape. Brush on butter with pastry brush, then spread filling over entire surface. Roll up into a cylinder, cut into 9-12 rolls. Add to a greased casserole dish. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in fridge over night.

Take rolls out in morning an hour before cooking to rise. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 20 minutes. Add aluminum foil on top 15 minutes through to prevent over-browning. Spread icing on immediately after coming out of the oven.

 

 

 

Love letter #5, lots of loaves

I have to admit, unlike my past and future posts, this letter is not inspired by Alex. It’s inspired from my time when I was in high school working at Starbucks with some of my best friends. Though at the time I hated working evenings and weekends (who wouldn’t?), I can look back on that time fondly. This post is an homage to them and that time of my life.

Though not baked in-house, there is something so nostalgic to me about the various pastries that Starbucks sells. Almost a decade later and every time I walk into a café it reminds me of high school. The smell of the coffee, the roar of the blenders, and the rhythmic noise of the iced teas being shaken flood me with memories.

My tastes have matured as I’ve gotten older, so I don’t order the pastries or sweets from Starbucks anymore. However, I do enjoy baking the pastries I used to love so much at home. My favorites in particular were the loaves—lemon, banana walnut, and pumpkin. Anytime I make any of these breads I am reminded of that first job and sneaking a pastry to eat on my break.

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Adding parchment paper to the loaf pan is an easy way to get your bread out when it’s finished. 
These recipes fall into the “quick-bread” category. There’s no rising, the steps are simple, and the end result is relatively foolproof.

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It’s very important for all your ingredients to be room temperature.

You can use a hand mixer, but the butter and sugar needs to be creamed together, so it is slightly tedious.

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Always zest your lemons before you juice them.
Most glazes are simply powdered sugar with some type of liquid or butter, or both. In this case, it’s with freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Like I’ve said in prior posts, always use freshly squeezed lemon juice. You already need the zest, don’t skimp and use the store-bought juice.

It’s very important to let the loaf cool almost completely before you add the glaze. You want the glaze to stick to the top, not slide completely down the sides.

Make sure your bananas are very ripe. Often times this means buying bananas and waiting for them to turn brown. If you go to the grocery store the day you are planning on making the bread, you may find yourself with non-ripe bananas.

Bananas both flavor the bread and sweeten it, and the walnuts add a satisfying crunch.

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Sifting ensures no lumps in the batter and that the dry ingredients are mixed well together.
Pumpkin loaf is a favorite fall treat of mine. I like to make it in the summer to remind myself that autumn is not so far away.

I like to use purée real pumpkin when they are in season. When they are not, canned works just fine.

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“Pumpkin spice” generally refers to a blend of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and all-spice.

The flavor is much better from freshly ground nutmeg than what you would find in the spice aisle.

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Lemon loaf

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Banana walnut bread

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Pumpkin loaf
There are some pastries that are just better bought at a bakery or pastry store. But these loaves are not one of them. They are simple, fresh, and taste better homemade. I love lemon loaf in the summer because of the bright, citrus notes. Pumpkin loaf in the fall because of those traditional flavors. And banana nut loaf in the winter, warmed with butter. I love seasonal dishes, but pastries especially. There’s something magical about seasonal pastries, making them yourself, and letting those you care about reminisce about old times while sharing a cup of coffee or glass of wine. I hope this inspires you to bake a nostalgic treat.

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A slice of cold lemon loaf with a sweet glaze is the perfect summertime treat. Pair with strawberries, a glass of rosé, and eat it outside on a warm evening after dinner.

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A slice of warm banana nut bread with a pat of butter and a black cup of coffee is a perfect way to start your weekend.

When it comes to baking, I like to use classic recipes. Why change what is already perfect? The spice ratio on the pumpkin loaf I did change slightly. I like a spicier bread, so I add more nutmeg and ginger, and a touch less brown sugar.

Lemon loaf

Banana walnut bread

Pumpkin loaf