November 15, 2016

Pumpkin-Caramel Baked Doughnuts

Birthday girl requested pumpkin, so pumpkin she got—and not in any ordinary pumpkin bread sort of way. Because the best kinds of friendships send you to the innovation board, also known as a mesh of Google recipe search results...
...Until you have her favorite form of sweet treat, the doughnut, with a uniquely fall twist. The thick caramel frosting drapes over these warm-spiced cake-y babes with decadence. Bonus points if you can get Snickers crumbs to actually stick to the frosting before it sets, too. 
And heres'a leftover batter solution: Throw in some mini chocolate chips and excess Snickers pieces and bake them as mini muffins for a bonus round of treats to take to yet another gathering of people that week. 
Hey look, this photo actually got treated to natural light. I miss it after 5 p.m. Sad times, this season change brings.

Verdict: Birthday treat win!

October 19, 2016

Triple Chocolate Oat Cake

Since this has pretty much become a chocolate cake blog, here's a new one: moist subtly sweet cake with a hint of cinnamon studded with chocolate chips and cocoa-encased oatmeal—all covered in a just-thick-enough layer of rich buttery chocolate frosting with a hidden touch of molasses. Bake it in a 13x9-inch pan, and add some writing icing to step up the celebration factor.

When I look at this image, I see the imperfection of small border of congealed butter on the frosting (whoops on cooking that too long) and how I didn't get a photo of the cake whole before it got cut and devoured.

But then I think of how an old roommate with superb icing writing skills just so happened be at my house for a walk right before this cake was to be delivered (and so naturally I enlisted her skills), and minutes later how the birthday girl, well into adulthood and motherhood, remarked with delight that she hadn't had her name on a cake in years. 

I think of cutting kid pieces and then adult pieces, eating with plastic on paper, with people I share in life with week by week. And then I think of plating up a final piece with icing prettiness the next morning and deciding to place it on this piece of artwork that was just hanging out on my porch because I live with talented artists who capture everything I love about forests and mountains and put them on our walls.

That's when I'm reminded the messy-beautiful of real life is far superior than a perfect cake or a perfect blog photo, and that I can always capture the all of it the old fashioned way in words at any time.

August 15, 2016

Nutella Mousse Cake

The good news is that if, by chance, you cut this cake and serve about half of it, and the remainder topples over into not-so-pretty layers, the creamy Nutella mousse+moist chocolate layer cake combo is still just as dreamy as in its original form.

I am now wondering why I ever even liked super sweet, thick buttercream when you can sub it will a light and fluffy cream filling that makes a layer cake more creamy than intensely sweet. By the time you incorporate the chocolate-hazlenut spread into whipping cream, its flavor is less intense, making it a simple cool, slightly chocolatey complement to that chocolate layer cake that I make over and over and over again.

This recipe wins the elusive Madoline-Says-OMG-So-Tasty-With-Literally-Every-Bite award. It will be making more appearances in the future.

July 28, 2016

Fig Pizza with Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese

First off, you should know these are not really figs. They are wigs. Because when my roommates first picked them off the neighbor's tree, the name was their way around the law (that doesn't really exist).

More importantly, one of them invented this wondrous combination of sliced sweet figs with creamy goat cheese, sweet-savory caramelized onions, nutty walnuts, and the magical aroma of rosemary. And most importantly, late summer is the time to make this happen because that's when you find figs in season.
Last year, I found myself in a particular conundrum. The brilliant creator of the fig pizza had moved out. No fig pizza was just appearing in my oven. So I had to take matters into my own hands.
It just so happened to be on a night where no one was home after a season of spending lots of time with people. And can I tell you how wondrous it was to create a fig pizza alone (since I had to do it myself and all)? It might not be exactly to the creator's specifications, but I still found it brilliantly delicious. And it brought me back to the day of the wigs, and all the subsequent pizza baking that was shared with their harvesters.
And it got dark outside, and my kitchen lighting killed the photo compared to the others.

 Cheers to fig pizzas that are almost as wondrous as the memories that are paired with them!

July 18, 2016

How to Make a Simple Yet Awesome Recipe Booklet

The end of a life season has a certain power to make my tear ducts drizzle with emotion, even though I claim to not be much of a crier. That's when I whip out words on paper to commemorate the significance of it to those I shared it with. Usually it's in a card, but this time it was in a little recipe book project.

You see, there once was a group of budding editors, fresh out of school, who tried to "make it" in the dreamy world of lifestyle magazines. Our common bond? Potlucks. These were not affairs of rotisserie chickens, store-bought cookies, and a six pack, mind you. They were themed with each participant contributing a coordinating dish to make for a feast that impressed us in all our food editor-ness every time. And it was always homemade.

Although our careers took different paths and sent us to new parts of town, the potlucks didn't stop. There were tamale parties at Christmas, backyard barbecues in the summer, Downton Abbey watching feasts in the bleak midwinter, brunches just because, and always, always a fall party with a pumpkin stuffed full of a rice-and-ground-beef casserole-like concoction.

Eventually, there came lunches to celebrate engagements and talk of what will happen when things change, when some of us were planning to move away.
That's when I sent out the email, and the recipes started flooding in. We had to have the pumpkin of course, and the corn salad we all remembered from the barbecue. Bri's famous brownies and artichoke dip were musts. And along came some of our favorites that might not have made for potlucks but we thought should be shared.

And so when wedding time came for two of these ladies, two weeks apart, I bought them a gift off the registry of course. But more importantly, I packed up a flip book of words and photos that are as much about the memories and life shared together as they are about ingredients and procedures, and the extra copies went to the single ladies who compiled, edited, and shared their test kitchen secrets (shout out to the food editor and test kitchen professional among us!) because it's not like we were going to be left out.

I made a more time-intensive, fancily published family cookbook on Blurb a few years back, but this time a took a simpler route. Here's how:

June 27, 2016

Pesto Pasta Salad

Pasta salad has become the love language of the summer of 2016.

It's just so multiplicitous. I can make a whole batch for a family in the sleepless newborn state of life (and maybe hoard a few lunch servings), and they too can pull it out for insta-meal after insta-meal. I can eat on it, my roommates can eat on it, sometimes once (or twice!) a day for a week, still finding garlicky basily freshness punched into every veggie crisp bite. Before you know it, your roommate is also making multiple batches of the pesto pasta variety and feeding it to her people.

And then sometimes when reminds you to deliver your pasta salad, you get to hear stories and struggles, and figure out that dropping by some dairy-free chocolate the next week when all the crazy of life will be descending will speak love even stronger.

And sometimes catering-sized pasta salad behemoths will take over your fridge when you marry off a roommate. Then pasta salad becomes the means to laughs around the table and an excuse to blend leftover citrus and berries with some tequila, which might have had something to do with the laughs. And it doesn't stop giving there. It becomes insta-food for a friend with energetic kids whose husband is out of town, and an excuse to stop by and talk with someone who after their super hard day ends up filling you up with encouragement too.

So why not make it this week too?

May 16, 2016

Best Birthday Cakes of My 20s+30 Reflections at 30

The have nots of my 20s haunted my ascent to 30. I have not married, or even come close. I have not had children. I have not bought a home. I have not owned a dog. The approaching-30, not-quite-where-you-thought-you’d-be-in-life shame is real, and it’s cruel. It’s also full of falsehood. 

In my final weeks of my 20s, though, I focused my thoughts elsewhere—on the joys and growth that HAVE marked this formative decade. They are abundant and rich. Today, on year 30, day 1, that’s where I am living, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Sour Cream Marble Cake for Susan
1. I baked many birthday cakes, hence the visuals for this post (scroll down past my verbal explosion for more from my collection).

2. I opened my home. I hosted groups of 20 plus girls and groups of 10-15 coeds for lake weekends. I co-hosted potlucks and New Year’s parties, backyard movies and neighbor gatherings, intimate dinner parties and houses full of people for going away parties.

3. I was submerged in an icy cold creek on an Easter Sunday to signify my new life, and a few years later on an Easter Sunday proclaimed that life to an entire church body.

4. I moved to a creaky old apartment in college town, Missouri, with an oven that had to be lit with a lighter, where I learned my craft of choice from those who know it well.

5. I slowly started my life over in the city where I grew up with my parents as roommates, and ultimately found layer after layer of magic new and old in the Magic City.

6. I pursued what I thought was my dream job only for the bridge to it to crumble and make way for the dream job I never knew I wanted.

7. A house of three then-strangers became home. Before long, I’d lived with 12 ladies and found treasures of friendship and companionship along the way.

8. I walked through engagement and marriage with friend after friend after roommate after friend. I loved it. I was exhausted by it.

9. I worshipped with believers in Creole and Spanish, in Haiti and Guatemala.

10. I developed a voice in writing, had the privilege of telling people’s stories and nerded out over grammar like it was my job.

11. I wrote love letters to my mom and to my closest friends, because who said love letters were just for romance?

12. I went on blind dates with mutual friends and with complete strangers from the internet, and each time they became slightly less terrifying.

13. Speaking of, I became a bolder version of myself.

14. I wasn’t ready to stop learning. I took lay theology classes and classes on calligraphy and cake decorating. I attended lectures on occasion, read things and added 206 books to my “read” list on GoodReads.

15. I totaled a car, said things I immediately wanted to take back and saw a darker side of Madoline the Good Girl. Guess what? She’s a sinner like everyone else.

16. I felt the weight of sin and darkness more heavily, in myself, in the lives of those I love, and in people I struggled to love. It hurt. And it made the power of salvation all the sweeter.  

17. I went on friend dates, dates with my parents, dates with my brother. I went to local restaurants, on picnics, to plays and concerts. I relished one-on-one and small group conversation. See also: introversion.

18. I cried big fat ugly cries on occasion and learned that it’s okay to let myself do that, to grieve the end of something meaningful and to grieve the hurt I felt from others.

19. I reached new depths of feeling known and loved by friends who feel like family and sought to be that kind of friend to them.

20. I documented my days, my years, my highlights, my lowlights. I journaled, about spiritual things and not-so-spiritual things. I stepped up my photography quality and printed photos for an ongoing old fashioned album.

21. I composed 351 blog posts about what I cooked, but most days I cooked with zero care for presentation and photos. More than any kitchen activity, I baked cookies and cakes, chocolate and chocolate, cookies and cakes, and chocolate and chocolate. Perhaps most significantly, I baked this cake and these cookie bars about 37 times each (that’s a completely random guess of a number).

22. I embraced my freedom. I took last minute road trips to see newborn babies and spent days and hours and days of quality time with friends. I slept in. I daydreamed for hours and hours on end. I came home when I wanted to. I watched what I wanted to. I did what I wanted to. I ate what I wanted to.

23. I made friends with ladies newer to the adulting thing than I was. Along the way, I learned age means less than maturity.

24. I learned to listen and ask good questions—to be a good journalist, a good friend and a good stranger to talk to. And to value people whose conversations are marked by these things.

25. Intentionality became my favorite mantra.

26. I said yes to responsibility, to a junior board, to a junior board presidency, to running alumni events, to hosting, to planning.

27. I got to see and soak in the beauty of giant rocks in Arizona, rivers and mountains in Jackson Hole and Montana, gardens and pastries in England, architecture in Spain, coastlines in the Dominican Republic and Maine, culture and coasts in Seattle and Victoria, and the scenic contours of my own backyard.

28. I learned to embrace my introversion. I’m now cool with not being the bubbly person that everyone immediately is enthralled with two seconds after meeting OR the one who likes large social events, and I have confidence in the strengths of the personality I was given (ISFJ all the way!).

29. I discovered that church could become the people who feel like home and remind you of the truth you want to believe.

30. I learned to laugh at the future, to hold my dreams with an open hand and to love the gifts of the present that I could never have dreamed up on my own.

Cheers to the advent of my 30s, and to all the cakes to come!

Smitten Kitchen's Tiramisu Cake for Laura
Chocolate-Buttercream Cupcakes for Katie
Chocolate-Kahlua Buttercream Cupcakes for Madison
Strawberry Cake (from somewhere on the Internet) for Emily
Chocolate-Buttercream Cake with Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Frosting on Top for Sarah Margaret
Sugarless Jello Mold for Melissa
Chocolate Waffle Bar by Moi for My 26th Birthday
Blueberry-Lemon Layer Cake for Amy (with an A!)
Birthday Fruit Tart for Irene
Chocolate Sheet Cake for Marian (from the way back archives!)
Chocolate Cake Pops for Mom's 50th
Insta-Cookie Cake for Many Coworkers' Birthdays (but the photo was from Patrick's graduation)