Yesterday, my mom texted me to say that it was very fall-ish in Portland and that she accidentally-on-purpose bought a pumpkin loaf from New Seasons (a wonderland of a grocery store with an irresistible bakery). I wrote back to say that I had pumpkins on my front stoop, but it was hitting 90° in Springfield this week. Hardly fall-ish. But this morning on my walk, before the sun could crank up the temperature, I caught a faint scent of fallen leaves and noticed that the light was just slightly different than it was a couple of weeks ago. And suddenly I needed to get myself a pumpkin loaf, too.
As far as I’m concerned, Smitten Kitchen’s Spinach and Cheese Strata is the ultimate in breakfast casserole perfection. Jessica told me about the recipe a few years ago and after making it once, I put it into permanent brunch rotation. It has never failed to impress and delight: it’s excellent for company because it’s unapologetically cheesy and carby and it’s excellent for the cook because it’s assembled the night before and simply baked the next morning. I love it because of the flavors (creamy, nutty, custardy) and because it tastes like more than just scrambled eggs with fillings—it’s a savory bread pudding. The only problem with the recipe is that I found myself making it too often. How many times can you serve the same guests the same thing without it becoming weird? I decided not to find out.
Jessica is amazing, isn’t she? Her resilience and courage overwhelm me with pride and love and admiration. I’m beyond lucky to have her as a best friend and, of course, as my blogging partner. I wasn’t sure, though, that we would come back to our blog. This place is where we can be as silly and lighthearted on the page as we are in the kitchen, so during the past couple of months it was hard to imagine that we’d ever be back here having fun. Knowing that my best friend was in such pain made it impossible for me to think straight, let alone blog. Not that I gave much thought to the idea of posting here by myself—this is our shared conversation and without my Brooklyn counterpart, there is no Butter Poached. Jessica’s the one who started that conversation again. We were huddled in a back room at her wedding, waiting for the ceremony to begin, when she said she wanted to get back to blogging if I did, too.
You bet I do, bestest.
To mark my return to Butter Poached, I’m sharing the most why-not recipe I know, one that I think would’ve made Jessica’s mom smile for its silliness: magic marshmallow crescent puffs. A puff is made of a crescent roll stuffed with a buttery, cinnamon-sugar-coated marshmallow. The rolls are baked until golden brown and drizzled with a confectioner’s sugar icing. My mom clued me in to these gems. She mailed me the recipe clipped from a newspaper with her handwritten challenge: “I DARE YOU!” My mother apparently holds my baking tastes in much higher regard than is warranted—no dare needed. I couldn’t wait to make these. A marriage of two of my favorite processed foods in one ooey-gooey treat? Pop that tube!
Finding this recipe felt like finding a $20 bill in an old wallet. I was relaxing and leafing through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table when it jumped out at me: a quick bread with two kinds of cheese, a whole packet of chives, and a good portion of walnuts. In other words, simple, irresistible, and a guaranteed winner. How could I have missed this recipe the countless times I’d looked through this book? Who knows. Who cares. I wasted no more time before letting the bread exceed my expectations. It’s delicious enough to eat morning, noon, and night. Twice at night, actually: it’s both a great cocktail snack and dinner accompaniment. It’s even seasonally appropriate: you can make it with Irish cheddar and serve it with Guinness at your St. Patrick’s Day party this weekend (or with mounds of bacon at the very necessary morning-after brunch).
I am learning to love the Jamaica Plain Whole Foods. It’s small and mighty, packed with just enough of just the right stuff. Sure, sometimes it’s stocked out of basics like brown sugar and chicken broth, but it has a variety of imported cheeses to make up for its faults. The only thing about the J.P. Whole Foods that continues to challenge my affection is the width of the aisles. They are narrow. Passing people mid-aisle is not a polite maneuver; it’s impossible unless someone is willing to go flat up against the shelves. Navigating around loose kids, full-sized shopping carts, sample tables, and artisan salumi is no easy task. On any given day, I wouldn’t be surprised to find Guy Fieri in there piloting a new Food Network show, “Yuppie Grocery Gauntlet.” Frustrating though those aisles may be, they do force me to get close to the food, which is how I discovered that the J.P. Whole Foods regularly sells hot-from-the-oven bread. That’s also how I developed a bread surplus problem. And a bread pudding solution.
I recently read Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses for the first time, and I love love loved it. The writing, the story, the way it made me want to run away to Mexico and work with horses all day…and especially the tortillas. According to Google Books (a source I at least mostly trust), there are 15 mentions of tortillas in All the Pretty Horses. According to me, I wanted tortillas pretty much constantly after I started reading. They just sounded so simple and good, whether the characters were eating them in the morning with eggs and beans before going out to break horses, or with “an anonymous stew” in prison (yes, Cormac McCarthy can make even prison food sound appealing). Descriptions of food in books have been making me hungry for years–the breakfasts Jeeves makes for Bertie when he’s hungover in PG Wodehouse’s stories, the elaborate teas Anne learns to make at Green Gables*, pretty much every food ever mentioned in A Year in Provence–but this was the first time I was actually inspired to recreate something at home. Tortilla descriptions plus Cinco de Mayo was too perfect a combination to resist.
A couple of weeks ago, I was flipping through Baked Explorations and I came across a recipe for Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins. There was no picture accompanying the recipe, but the headnote drew me in with shout outs to every great thing about fall: crackling fires, leaf peeping, pumpkin recipes, and cheddar cheese. (I’m still not sure why cheddar is on that list, but I find myself agreeing that it’s autumnal. The color, perhaps?). The muffin recipe itself was very unusual. Cheddar and a good dose of spice made it savory and the pumpkin and dark brown sugar made it sweet. As eager as I was to pull out my mixing bowls and make a fall treat, I thought maybe this was too weird. On the one hand, of course it’s not, because as Jessica reminded us earlier this week, squash and cheese are meant to be. But together in a baked good? It’s weird, right?
Jessica and I texted about these muffins when I was still contemplating whether they’d be a good bet. I told her I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about them and she said, “Doooooo it! Sounds so weird/possibly delish!” And that was my thought, exactly. Continue reading