Baked Sunday Mornings: Mom’s Olive Oil Orange Bundt Cake

I decided, on the spur of the moment yesterday, to dip my toe back into the Baked Sunday Mornings project. I had made an executive decision, after three months of full-time work (a tough adjustment after more than 10 years of a part-time schedule!) and weekends that saw us run ragged with To Dos, to just do nothing. Putter. Laze around. Not rolling on Shabbos, so to speak.

This, of course, meant that in addition to doing chores and taking a fairly long nap, that I spent a fair amount of time sewing and baking. But at least it was an agenda I set for myself, and by that right, it was very relaxing. And the tangible results of this laziness are quite delightful.

I was actually very irritated while making this cake, particularly while zesting the oranges. “Why would you make a cake calling for fresh orange zest in the middle of summer?! Oranges are a winter fruit! These grocery-store, hothouse, imported oranges are mealy and lame!” (This was all inner dialogue, mind.) One of the cookbooks that I write about in my dissertation says that “Our lives are so disconnected from organic or natural timekeeping and the best efforts of the earth, that once we enter the sterile world of pre-packaged supermarkets it is hard to remember that strawberries and tomatoes are not worth eating in January and that onion soup and oranges don’t make sense in August.” Needless to say, I totally agree.

That doesn’t mean that this cake isn’t delicious — it truly is. The oils from the orange zest did their job and the cake, which was especially scrumptious when it was still warm, is definitely a treat. It’s a little dry this morning, but I wonder if maybe 10 seconds in the microwave would activate the olive oil a bit and awaken the moisture. I just wonder what it would taste like made with locally grown oranges in season (being in Texas means that I actually do have access to locally grown oranges in season!). Maybe I’ll try this one again in December.

Slow Food Quiz Bowl!!

image snagged from the Slow Food Austin website

Well, it’s official. On Sunday, August 14, I will be representing — along with Jodi, Megan, and Kathryn — the Austin Food Blogger Alliance at Slow Food Austin’s annual fundraiser. What is it, you ask? Why, a Quiz Bowl, of course!

I am a fan of the Slow Food movement because it is committed to preserving local food traditions and emphasizing the virtues and pleasures of conviviality and commensality. (Look for a related blog post soon!) There are so many practitioners of Slow Food in Austin — Bryce Gilmore, the folks at Dai Due, the Kocureks, to name just a few — heck, if you go to the farmers market to stock up on your week’s groceries, harvest veggies from your backyard for dinner, make it a point to go to a restaurant that sources its ingredients locally, or simply take the time to cook the family meal from scratch, making sure that everyone is fully present (rather than bolting down food with eyes glued to the TV), you’re a practitioner of Slow Food.

It is my opinion that now, more than ever (ugh, such a cliche! But apt.), we need to work hard to preserve our local food traditions and place a bold underscore under the importance of eating together. What better way to stand up to the Monsantoization of our food supply and the McDonaldsization of our food culture than to eat unsullied, lovingly prepared food in the presence of our loved ones?

If you’re interested in attending the Quiz Bowl, you can buy tickets on the Slow Food Austin site. There will also be a raffle of cool stuff, as well as a live auction of cuts of meat broken down right before your eyes.

If you’re interested in contributing to our team entry fee of $150, which will ultimately go to the charity of our choosing (because we are going to ROCK THIS OUT!!!!), you can donate here.

Please do come out and support this very worthy cause. At the very least, it’s a good excuse to drink cocktails on a Sunday afternoon.

Not the Pits Granola Bars

I’m always looking for new and exciting things to put in the Big Kid’s lunch box. Having a full-time summer job this year has meant that BK goes to day camp, one that doesn’t serve lunches. So, summer break has not translated into a break from packing his lunch. I will admit to having fallen a bit into the pb&j-Pirate’s Booty-sliced strawberries rut a few times over the past 6 weeks or so.

So, naturally, when Whole Foods announced its kid-friendly cherry recipe contest, I immediately started thinking inside the lunchbox.

This recipe, as written, is not very sweet, but it is also very versatile. You could add in a half-cup of brown sugar, maybe some dark chocolate chips if your family has a sweet tooth (and we all know that dark chocolate goes beautifully with these luscious cherries!). You could use honey as an alternative sweetener, or agave nectar for a lighter taste that’s still suitable for vegans (the golden syrup used here adds a deep, almost nutty flavor, so other sweeteners will change the flavor profile a bit). I see this being a great portable snack for athletic kids to turn to after a rigorous soccer or track practice, or a wholesome power-up before a test or a dance recital.

Not the Pits Granola Bars

makes about 12 bars

1/2 cup fresh cherries
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1 fresh apricot
3 cups rolled oats (NOT quick oats)
1 cup whole almonds
2/3 cup golden syrup
2 T olive oil
1 t cinnamon
1 t sea salt
1.5 t vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Pit and halve cherries, and place on a cookie sheet with blueberries and pitted, sliced apricot. Dry in the oven until shrivelly but not burnt. Remove and cool.
2. Bump oven up to 350. Spray or oil an 8×12 baking pan (I used Pam) and line with parchment paper.
3. Place oats and almonds in pan and toast for 15 minutes, stirring once.
4. While toasting, whisk together in a large bowl the golden syrup, olive oil, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla.
5. After you remove the oats/almonds from oven, bump temperature down to 300. Mix the oats and almonds in with the wet ingredients and stir to coat. Add in the dried fruit and mix thoroughly.
6. Press mixture into pan. Bake for 25 minutes.
7. When completely cool, lift the mixture out of the pan using the parchment paper and transfer onto a large cutting board. Slice into bars. Eat and enjoy!

Chai Peach Pie, or, How Shopping at the Farmers Market Changed My Life (a little bit)

Last night, I made a pie, from scratch, for the first time in my life.

Now, I’ve made plenty of quiches and icebox pies with premade crusts of the regular, whole wheat, and graham cracker varieties. Last year, I even made my husband a sweet potato pie from scratch, but I cheated and used crusts made by my friends because I was so intimidated by pie crusts.

(I know! Ridiculous!)

But last night, I made a peach pie that is so delicious, I may never have non-homemade pie again, the strawberry-rhubarb pie from Quack’s excepted. This is where the farmers market comes in. I’ve been shopping at the weekend (and sometimes the Wednesday) markets for a couple of years now, but I’ve never really gone much out of my comfort zone of tomatoes, cucumbers, berries, figs, and so on. But over the past few weeks, I’ve bought things that I wouldn’t really ever purchase because I either wasn’t terribly experienced with them, or I didn’t think my family would eat them, or I just hadn’t ever considered it.

I went in with my friend Megan a couple of weeks ago on a 25-pound box of tomatoes from Johnson’s and made a bolognese (yum), some tomato sauce (a disaster), and a caprese quiche (recipe to come). That same week, I bought a large bag of okra despite the fact that I knew it might be an unwelcome sight in our house. But I made gumbo with it! For the first time ever! And it was delish!

And that’s the thing: shopping at the farmers market has inspired me to cook things that lots and lots of other people have cooked millions of times before but that I hadn’t felt empowered or adventurous enough to try. I know this is a totally absurd thing to say in 2011, a good 4-5 years into the locavore movement, and I can hear you all in my head going, well, DUH, Melanie! Welcome to 2007! But I haven’t even mentioned the lard yet!

Now, I’m a good Southern girl, raised on banana pudding, slow-simmered squash, freshly snapped green beans, and fried chicken. But I’ve never, ever cooked with lard. I’m not afraid of lard, per se, I just haven’t had much occasion to use it. I LOVE homemade tortillas made with it, like you can find in San Antonio, and there was a place in Boulder that I adored whose motto was “Praise the Lard.” But, like I said, I had never felt moved to cook with it myself.

Until I got the email from Dai Due challenging their customers to bake a pie using their lard in the crust and locally grown fruits in the filling, and bring a slice to their stand at the Saturday market for judging. The person with the best pie wins a case of lard. I can’t explain why, but my reaction to this was GAME ON, DAI DUE. GAME ON.

I ordered my lard and picked it up last weekend, then mulled what kind of pie I would make. I finally decided on peach because they are plentiful right now. I found this recipe and started thinking about the ways I could tweak it in order to use some cool things I had on hand. I used the crust recipe on the same site, following it to the letter (SO. EASY.). The tweaks I made to the filling were minor, but tasty. First, I tossed the peaches in about a third-cup of the ginger simple syrup my friend Carly made. Then I added a whisper of cinnamon in addition to the cardamom. The combination of ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom said “chai” to me, hence my adaptation of the name of the pie.

I had some trouble rolling out the dough (husband said I need some guide dowels or one of those fancy rolling mats). I had parts that were thinner than others, which caused little rips and holes in the top crust, so I Frankensteined those bits with crust scraps. This gave my pie a bit of rustic look:

After baking (husband showed me a cool trick with foil that helped protect the outer edges of the crust from burning), I left it to cool. I wanted so badly to try it before it was cool, but it needed to set, so I left it be. But when I got up this morning, I had a small slice in my belleh before the coffee had even finished brewing.

There was a lot of liquid (note that the size of my breakfast slice was considerably smaller than the amount of pie missing in this picture):

ZOMG this pie, y’all. The crust was perfectly flaky, the filling wasn’t too sweet, and the left-on skin of the peaches lent a lovely texture. I packed up a couple of slices and headed out. First stop, Laura’s house. Her feedback was … encouraging. Then I went down to the farmers market to drop a generous slice with the Dai Due folks (and to pick up some tubs of their pimento cheese and amazing egg salad). They tucked in immediately and started making all sorts of yummy noises. Let me tell you, there is no better way to start the day than by having Jesse Griffiths compliment the crust and the spicing in your first-ever from-scratch peach pie!

I’ll find out later this week who won the pie contest, but in a way I feel like I’ve triumphed in some small way already by gaining more confidence in the kitchen. I’ve made so many things I wouldn’t have otherwise if I’d just stuck to the grocery store. Now if I could find similar inspiration for keeping my house clean!