Yesterday I looked up and realized we’re into the last half of July. Already. And I had one of those inevitable panics where I feel like we haven’t been hiking enough, we haven’t done any camping or road-tripping or picnicking. Sam and I used to devote Sunday mornings to visiting one of our favorite bakeries and reading the paper — and then moseying into Ballard to shop at the farmers market. But now that I bake all day on Sundays for Marge, that tradition has slipped by the wayside. And I feel the same thing happening with the season this year. While I honestly wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than Seattle, our summer can feel pretty short (it really doesn’t get going until the beginning of July). And on those gray, dark February days, I want to make sure I’ve gotten in some good hiking, camping and picnicking. This whole grain skillet crisp is a good place to start: while we didn’t take it out picnicking, I did take it out into the backyard and had a very generous slice right out of the skillet. Slowly. At 9:30 p.m. when it was still light out. So really, when you consider those moments, July could be worse.
I’m not sure if I’ve formally shared with you all yet, but I’ll be working with Attune Foods for a handful of months developing original recipes using their incredible line of whole grain cereals and graham crackers. I feel very lucky as they’re all products that I truly believe in and use often in the house. This recipe is made with their classic Uncle Sam cereal which I love because it’s not at all too sweet (less than 1g of sugar!) but packs a whallop of protein and fiber. The ingredient list contains a total of four ingredients — you don’t see that much these days. When we’re not sprinkling Marge Granola on yogurt, Uncle Sam has become a staple around here.
As for the crisp: it’s a quick, juicy mess of summer all nestled in a cast-iron skillet. If you’ve tried some of the whole grain, seasonal recipes on this site you’re going to like it. It relies solely on whole wheat flour and almond meal — with a splash of buttermilk and a handful of sliced almonds. The topping straddles the line between a crisp and a cobbler (it’s a touch biscuity) and I’ve used it atop a layer of blueberries and blackberries, too. The result? It was a close competitor to the version below. In that way, I say use any berries you like if you can’t get your hands on summer cherries, and let me know if you try other fruits as well — I’d love to hear about it. Until then, a recipe and a promise to be back here soon — with a summer picnic under my belt. I wish all the same for you. Late July: let’s do this.
For the filling:
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Generously butter a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or other oven-safe pan.
Make the crisp topping
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the whole wheat flour, brown sugar, almond meal, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and kosher salt and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter. Pulse 20-30 seconds, or until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Slowly add the buttermilk and continue pulsing until the liquid is incorporated. At this point, the dough should come in clumps.
Turn the topping out into a medium bowl and fold in the Uncle Sam cereal and almonds; mix with a wooden spoon (or your hands) until both are incorporated.
Prepare the filling
Toss together the cherries, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract and cornstarch in a medium mixing bowl. Transfer to the prepared cast iron skillet or other baking-safe pan.
Spoon the topping over the cherries by the heaping tablespoon, so they’re almost fully covered (it’s okay if some around the edges are peeking through). Place in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through to ensure even baking. The top should be golden brown and the cherry juices bubbling through.
Remove from the oven, and cool for at least 20 minutes before serving. Serve warm or room temperature. Wrapped in plastic wrap, the crisp will keep at room temperature for 1 additional day.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.