Perfectly Ironed

 Nibby Super Cinnamon Waffles | Flour Arrangements

My daughter Eliza may be a picky eater, but this frustratingly finicky trait has a definite upside.  She feels passionate about the foods does like, and she can prepare and cook a few of these herself.  Since she loves to experiment, this sometimes leads to culinary genius, like pizza omelets or cinnamon chocolate brownies.

Eliza’s especially fond of waffles, and she’s perfected her super cinnamon waffles over the last several months.

Nibby Super Cinnamon Waffles | Flour Arrangements

Last weekend, she deviated slightly from her standard recipe, and the resulting waffles were truly inspired.  As she mixed up the dry ingredients, she noticed the bag of cocoa nibs I’d picked up for making peppermint patty tart. Her eyes lit up and she asked, somewhat cautiously, if she could mix some into the batter.

Why, yes.  Yes you can.

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No Sour Grapes

 Roasted Grape Tart | Flour Arrangements

I love grapes. I love their juicy crispness.  I love the explosion of sweetness they unleash in your mouth as their taut skins rupture. I love grapes, but I only love them when they’re perfect.  Once they’re even slightly past their prime, I want nothing to do with them.

My genius mom used to pop saggy grapes in the freezer: since water expands as it freezes, juice-filled grapes plump right back up into delicious frozen treats.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t realize that she was using the sad, withered grapes that we refused to eat to make this coveted snack. Now, though, I totally appreciate this simple trick for reducing food waste.

These days, ironically,  I’m withering perfectly lovely grapes on purpose.  Tossing them with a bit of oil, salt, sugar, and herbs and baking them in the oven transforms grapes from simple snack food to elegant cheese platter fare.

Roasted Grape Tart | Flour Arrangements

Roasting heightens grapes’ flavor as it begins to caramelize the sugars in each juicy globe.  As soon as the heat makes them sag in their skins, they’re mouthwateringly delicious. With a splash of balsamic vinegar, they’re downright addictive.

Adding roasted grapes to dessert gives me some restraint, but not much.

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Minty Fresh

 

Peppermint Patty Tart | Flour Arrangements

My kids always jump at the chance to go to the hardware store with my husband.  Sure, they love his company, but mostly they go because he buys them York Peppermint Patties at the check stand.

I don’t eat much candy, but I’m right there with my family on the peppermint patty front.  Chocolate and peppermint, like perfect friends, bring out the best in each other.

It didn’t take much convincing on my part to take this flavor friendship to the next level.  With a bit of experimentation and lots of cheering on from my husband’s colleagues via Twitter, we’ve struck on something far better than peppermint patties: the peppermint patty tart.

Peppermint Patty Tart | Flour Arrangements

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Whiskey Rebellion

 

Chocolate Whiskey Cake | Flour Arrangements

If you love simple baking projects, you’re going to want to grab yourself a bottle of whiskey and some cocoa powder.   This chocolate whiskey bundt cake gives new meaning to the word simple.  You don’t even need a mixing bowl to make it — just combine everything in the saucepan you use to melt the butter.

If you happen to be fond of washing dishes, you could transfer that butter to a mixing bowl before adding everything else.  I’m going to ask you nicely to use the saucepan, though.  We’ve got a drought going on here in California;  since I’ve got to conserve water, everyone else should, too.

Chocolate Whiskey Cake | Flour Arrangements

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Hot Tomatoes

Tomato & Onion Tart | Flour Arrangements

Every time I bite into a juicy, luscious home grown tomato, the chorus from Guy Clark’s “Home Grown Tomatoes” plays in my head like a soundtrack:

Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes What would life be without home grown tomatoes? Only two things that money can’t buy That’s true love and home grown tomatoes It’s playing on a constant loop right now since I’m popping little tomatoes in my mouth just as quickly as the plants produce them in these golden days of summer.  Tomatoes are like candy, only better, since you can eat them all you want without any of the sugary guilt. While the zucchini harvest sometimes requires creativity, disposing of an abundance of tomatoes poses no such challenges.  There’s no scarcity of dishes that give summer tomatoes’ sweet, bright flavor center stage.  On bread or pasta, there’s really nothing finer than chopped fresh tomatoes tossed with basil and olive oil.  And as far as lunch goes, what’s better than thick tomato slices tucked in a sandwich along with bacon and lettuce? When I’m feeling the need to get more elegant, though, I make tomato & onion tart.

Tomato & Onion Tart | Flour Arrangements

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Squashed

Zucchini Pancakes with Basil & Blue Cheese | Flour Arrangements

We’re currently keeping up with our zucchini crop by sharing squash with willing takers, but I can see that soon I’ll need to start doorbell ditching our prolific harvest on people’s front steps.  For now, though, we’ve managed to feast on zucchini for days without repeating a recipe:  zucchini & basil pasta, zucchini & rosemary soup, sauteed zucchini, and zucchini pizza.  My favorite summer squash recipe so far, though, has to be zucchini pancakes.

Zucchini Pancakes with Basil & Blue Cheese | Flour Arrangements

Once grated and tossed with leeks, garlic, herbs, and blue cheese, zucchini takes on a whole new personality.  Eggs, a bit of flour, and a couple handfuls of breadcrumbs bind the mixture together in a thick, textured batter.
Fried on the griddle and served with spicy dipping sauces, these pancakes make a perfect appetizer for any summer party, but if you like them as much as I do, three or four make a fine meal alongside a tossed green salad.  They’re flavorful and tender, and they taste quite rich, despite the fact that they’re mostly vegetables.

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Simply Sweet

Nectarine Cake | Flour Arrangements

Lately, when I feel inspired by an elaborate baking project, I try to resist.  It’s summer.  I’d rather toss a Frisbee at the park with my girls or splash in the waves with them at Muir Beach.

In the dark days of winter, I can get fancy perfecting a lemon meringue cake.  For now, I’m keeping dessert simple.

I love elaborate cakes, and their splendor certainly has its place, but some days call for the understated elegance of a rustic nectarine cake.

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Tight Buns

Brioche Hamburger Buns | Flour Arrangements

The other morning, six-year-old Tessa said,”I want to do a baking project today called ‘not those buns.'”

Frankly, I felt the same.  I’d baked brioche hamburger buns nearly every day for a week.  Ever since I’d feasted on pulled pork layered thickly into a toasted brioche bun at Dad’s Diner A Go-Go in Anacortes, WA, I’d become obsessed with creating the perfect brioche bun.

I’d gotten damn close, too.  Time and time again, the rolls emerged from the oven with a flaky, tender texture and a rich, buttery flavor.  We’d savored them with hamburgers, sloppy joes, and roast beef.  My daughters popped them in the toaster with abandon and gobbled them down with butter and honey for breakfast.  These brioche buns were perfect in every way but one: they always cracked down the middle while baking.

Brioche Hamburger Buns | Flour Arrangements

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