“Come along in, and have some tea!” Bilbo managed to say after taking a deep breath.

“A little beer would suit me better, if it is all the same to you, my good sir,” said Balin with the white beard. “But I don’t mind some cake — seed-cake, if you have any.”

“Lots!” Bilbo found himself answering, to his own surprise; and he found himself scuttling off, too, to the cellar to fill a pint beer-mug, and then to a pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel.

One year and one day ago, my friend Nikki started the Geek Girls Book Club. In that time, she has successfully united over 1,000 voracious readers into a cheerful, intelligent and dedicated whole. Even though the club was by women, for women, it features many male members and supporters. Neil Gaiman has vetted her work, along with ThinkGeek.com, and the moral of the story is, one person can always make a huge difference!

The very first book devoured by the Geek Girls Book Club was The Hobbit, and so our special birthday dessert is served straight from Bilbo’s pantry. This cake is light and tender, full of bright flavors like lemon and almond that invoke springtime in the Shire. Bilbo may have opted for round cakes, but you can bake this up in a loaf pan, a muffin tin, or any other form your heart desires. Serve alongside tea, a glass of milk, or – if you’re brave like Balin – a nice tall pint.

Happy Birthday to you, Geek Girls Book Club! I’m so proud to count myself a member. Let’s all raise our glasses to many more years ahead!

Lemon Poppyseed Cake
5.0 from 3 reviews
Print
Recipe type: Dessert
Author: Chef Kittie
Ingredients
  • 1/3 cup Poppy Seeds (1.25 oz container)
  • 1 tbsp Lemon Zest, grated
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups Sugar
  • 2 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 3/4 cup Vegetable Oil or Applesauce
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp Almond Extract
Instructions
  1. Combine poppy seeds, lemon zest and milk in a bowl, and let soak for at least one hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 6-cup baking pan of your choice (loaf, bundt, springform, etc.) by greasing with butter and applying an even coat of flour. Tap pan to loosen excess flower and then shake off.
  3. Using a stand or hand mixer, whip eggs and sugar together until pale and fluffy looking. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. While mixer is running, drizzle oil/applesauce, vanilla extract and almond extract into egg mixture. Keep mixer running and add alternating batches of dry ingredients and milk mixture, stopping once to scrape down sides of bowl. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  5. Bake until cake appears dry on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (a few moist crumbs are ok, batter is not). This will take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the pan. (e.g. Mini bundt pan = 30 minutes, Loaf pan = 55 minutes.) Remove from oven and cool in pan for 5-10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
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Wrap Up: San Francisco Food Blogger Bake Sale

by chefkittie on April 30, 2012

I had a fantastic time at the San Francisco Food Blogger Bake Sale!

Just one table - we had three in total.

This was my first year participating, and even though I didn’t know any of the other bloggers personally, I had no problem jumping right in; by the end of the day, I felt like I’d known everyone for years. Food blogging really does generate wonderful community!

There were so many beautiful offerings — entire cakes and tarts, fresh-baked loaves of bread, biscuits, buns, macaroons, homemade marshmallows, truffles, and of course, cookies. So many cookies!

Lovely packaging!

Colorful macarons.

My very own Snickerdoodles, on display.

I didn’t bring my DSLR with me, since I was communing via car, ferry and light rail, so all these pictures are but humble iPhone shots. They capture the spirit of the event, though: casual, inviting and delicious!

I met so many amazing people, had some intriguing conversations, loaded up on inspiration, and left the event feeling like I’d entered a brave new world of possibility. I can’t wait for next year’s bake sale, and I’m hoping we invent some other gatherings along the way.

I am very thankful and grateful to both the event organizers and the other bake sale participants — without every single person that helped, the bake sale would not have been so successful. Every person counts!

Upcoming soon: a very special birthday post for the Geek Girls Book Club. Until then!

 

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Deliciously Simple Chicken Soup

by chefkittie on April 27, 2012

It’s hard to imagine soup getting any easier than this. The first time I tried this recipe, I was skeptical. It seemed too easy. Then I tasted the end result. Rich, savory, nourishing, yet light enough to serve in warmer months. It also freezes well; I keep some on hand at all times, in case one of us gets sick.

My favorite thing about this soup is the amount of ingredients you need to make it. Just five. 5. V. Amazing! How many other things can you make with just five ingredients? Not many.

That being said, you could expand and customize this soup in so many ways. Add some half-and-half just before serving for a creamy texture. Add a batch of fluffy cornmeal dumplings for a Southern feel. Toss in some egg noodles for that authentic chicken noodle experience. Experiment with your favorite spices. I’m getting hungry…

I have a great recipe for Cornmeal Dumplings I’ll dig up and post soon. Until then, enjoy this soup with some crusty bread, or a green salad on the side.

Deliciously Simple Chicken Soup
Print
Recipe type: Soup
Author: Chef Kittie
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour 15 mins
Serves: 6-8
Hearty chicken soup that requires only 5 ingredients.
Ingredients
  • 1 Whole Chicken, 3-4 lbs.
  • 3 Carrots, Diced
  • 3 Celery Stalks, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 medium Onion, chopped
  • 64 oz. Low Sodium Chicken Stock
Instructions
  1. Unwrap chicken and rinse under cool water. Trim away any excess fat, leaving skin intact. Place chicken in a large pot. Add chicken stock slowly, using just enough to cover most of the chicken without fully submerging.
  2. Add chopped vegetables evenly around the chicken. Optional: add one bay leaf and 5 peppercorns for extra flavor. Bring contents of the pot to a boil, then immediately reduce temperature to low and cover.
  3. Simmer for one hour, or until internal temperature of the chicken breast reads 150°F on a thermometer and the vegetables are tender. Remove pot from heat.
  4. Remove chicken from pot and let cool, 10-15 minutes. Remove meat from bones, shred or chop into bite-size pieces, and return to the soup. Add salt to taste if desired.
  5. Serve immediately with a sprinkle freshly ground pepper on top.
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(Recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman).

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Come one, come all! This fabulous event will feature delicious baked goods, including vegan and gluten-free items, from bloggers and other food enthusiasts around the Bay Area. 100% of the proceeds will go to helping eliminate child hunger. Plus, you can meet all sorts of lovely foodie people in person! It’s going to be just fantastic.

For my part, I will be supplying two dozen Snickerdoodle cookies, and an entire Flourless Chocolate Cake. The cookies will be in bundles of three, but if you show up early enough, the entire cake can be yours! All yours!

Last year’s bake sale raised over $2,500 with mouthwatering edibles, and this year promises even more variety and enthusiasm. Come on down, grab some coffee, buy something scrumptious, and meet all us blogger types! I promise we’ll have fun and interesting things to say.

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I got sick last weekend. Not really newsworthy, except:

  1. I had the exact same cold a month ago.
  2. I rarely get sick at all.

Two colds in as many months? Something was afoot.

I’m pretty sure cold #2 is the same as cold #1 — I didn’t give myself much downtime the first time around, and it came back around to bite me. If you get a cold, allow yourself a few days to sleep, rest up, fight it off. Lesson learned.

Image courtesy of ThePioneerWoman.com

In hindsight, I think my body knew what was coming, because the week before cold #2, I made a big pot of chicken soup. Nothing fancy, not even that pretty to look at, but definitely one of those warm-you-up-and-nourish-you-deep-down soups.

I found the original recipe on Ree’s website, and I’ve not tweaked it so much as simplified it — five ingredients + two hours = lots of delicious soup.

Having that soup available the first few days I was laid low made a huge difference in my recovery. That alone makes it blog-worthy.

Look for the recipe soon!

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One of my favorite aspects of video gaming is bridging the gap between the world of the game, and the world we live in every day. This is equally fun for other media, like books and movies, but that’s a post for another day. Today, I’m happy to bring a little slice of Azeroth into your kitchen.

Blizzard Entertainment must have more than a few food lovers on their staff – the recipe roster in World of Warcraft is impressive. From side dishes to desserts, main courses to beverages, there are more than 150 recipes listed in-game. I’m excited to try more, but today, we’re starting at level one.

Every novice chef in WoW starts out making Spice Bread. The ingredient list may be a bit shorter in the game, but this edible version comes together nearly as quickly. Full of simple, healthy ingredients like honey, milk and apples, for me it personifies Elwynn Forest, with its farms and apple orchards. This dense, chewy loaf is redolent with spices with a mellow, sweet flavor. Slices are delicious spread with butter or fruit preserves, or drizzled with a simple sugar glaze.

Serve alongside a green salad for lunch, or a tall glass of milk for breakfast, and enjoy!

Spice Bread

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup Brown Sugar, packed
  • 1/3 cup Honey
  • 1/3 cup Milk
  • 2 cups Flour
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Cardamom (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp Ground Cloves (optional)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/3 cup Applesauce

Pre-heat oven to 350°. In a small saucepan over low heat, stir brown sugar, honey and milk until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and spices together.

In another bowl, combine the eggs, applesauce and brown sugar mixture. Pour moist ingredients into dry ingredients and fold together gently with a rubber spatula until combined. Batter will look a little lumpy. Pour into a greased 8-in. x 4-in. loaf pan.

Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan. Cool completely on wire rack before slicing.

(Recipe inspired by World of Warcraft and adapted heavily from this recipe.)

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Croissant Bread Pudding

by chefkittie on April 13, 2012

I made this for dessert one night last week, and I’m making it again for breakfast this weekend. It is appealing on the plate, decadent on the tongue, and a cinch in the kitchen. Trifecta.

Flaky golden croissants. Smooth chocolate. Sweet custard. All delicious on their own, transmuted to something warm, pillowy and fragrant in the oven.

Bread pudding is very similar to french toast — it is bread soaked in uncooked custard, heated to an even consistency. Baked french toast has been very popular on the blogging circuit lately, as it can feed a crowd while allowing the cook to mingle/relax while it bakes. I found the relaxing and mingling just as useful after dinner.

This recipe works as dessert or breakfast– See my directions for both preparation methods!

I halved the original recipe and baked my version in a deep pie dish, which turned out to be the perfect amount for four people. It can be scooped, or sliced and served straight out of the dish, but I had fun with my circular cutters, making everyone’s plate all neat and tidy. Plus, I got all the external-cutting “scraps” to myself the next day, which was a decided bonus.

Enjoy!

Croissant Bread Pudding

  • Unsalted butter for greasing pie dish
  • 3 Egg Yolks
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 1/2 cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 8 0z. Croissants, cubed in 1-inch pieces

Additionals:

  • 2 oz. Dark Chocolate (60%+ cocoa), cut into chunks
  • 1 lb. Strawberries, quartered
  • 1 tbsp Sugar

For Both Versions:

Heat oven to 375° F.

Butter pie dish with unsalted butter, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

Add the cubed croissants. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the croissants into the custard mixture, taking care not to break apart. Once they are evenly coated, set aside to soak, about 10 minutes.

Dessert Version:

While croissant mixture is soaking, cut chocolate into 1/4 to 1/2″ chunks with a knife.

Transfer croissant mixture to the buttered pie dish. Evenly distribute chocolate across the top and gently press until just covered. Bake until set and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes.

Breakfast Version:

While croissant mixture is soaking, toss strawberries with sugar in a small bowl. Cover and set aside.

Transfer croissant mixture to the buttered pie dish. Bake until set and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately top with strawberries and their juices.

Serve either version warm, or at room temperature.

(Adapted from Real Simple.)

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Easter Picnic & Le Complet Sandwich

by chefkittie on April 10, 2012

We had a fabulous Easter Sunday, and I hope you did too, whether or not the holiday was part of the equation.

We got out of the house and headed for Jack London State Historic Park, a beautiful area in the Crescent Moon Valley in Sonoma. (Sadly, this park is slated for closure soon due to budget cuts; if you’ve never been, I highly suggest visiting! Just be sure to head out before July. I’ll spare you my political rant.)

Monkey and Aiden - The Relaxing Redheads

We set up near the Jack London Vineyard, at a picnic table beneath twisty, centuries-old oak trees. The weather was mild and breezy; the air was clean and fresh; the food was delicious, and the company more so. It was a lovely way to unwind.

We took time to meander about and explore – Monkey and Aiden checked out the former stallion stables, while I practiced my photography on the nearby trees – but mostly we sat, and talked, and ate.

Why yes, our picnic set does have monkeys on it.

Pretzel thins, brie, and a bottle of sparkling apple cider (not shown) complimented strawberries with a sprinkle of sugar for starters. There was some Easter chocolate in there too, if memory serves. After, we moved on to sandwiches inspired by a Parisian specialty; David Lebovitz wrote about them last year, and I’ve been hanging onto the bookmark ever since, waiting to give them a try. We paired our sandwiches with a Syrah Rosé, and enjoyed life.

David describes the French version as “le complet, a demi-baguette split and smeared with fresh goat cheese, doused with olive oil, and a few slices of jambon de pays (country ham) added to it all.”

I couldn’t find jambon de pays specifically, and we didn’t bring the olive oil (I had horrible visions of upholstery cleaning), but that was OK, because this sandwich is fabulous any way you choose to assemble it. Don’t let its simplicity fool you into thinking it’s boring – that very simplicity, and the brillaint ingredient pairing, let the flavors shine through.

This sandwich is perfect for picnics; I am planning to make some for work lunches. I also think a full baguette, split, assembled then sliced into inch-thick portions, would be just lovely for party nibbles.

Enjoy this slice of casual Parisian cuisine!

Le Complet Sandwich

  • 2 Demi Baguettes
  • 4 oz. Herbed Goat Cheese, room temperature
  • 8 oz. Sliced Ham
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Split each demi baguette in half lengthwise. Spread all four halves generously with goat cheese. Top each bottom layer of bread with half the ham. Drizzle olive oil, and top with salt and/or pepper to taste. Press each bottom half to top half, slice into two pieces, and serve.

(Inspired by this sandwich, which was enjoyed by David Lebovitz in Paris, France.)

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Foolproof French Press Coffee

by chefkittie on April 6, 2012

I have been drinking a lot of coffee lately. I’m not entirely sure why, though I think learning code has something to do with it; my father was a software programmer, and he always drank coffee while coding. Also, I have several friends who are into coffee. Also also, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is second in coffee obsession only to Seattle (IMO).

I like my coffee dark, and I like my coffee strong. Espresso: delicious. Espresso-based drinks: make it a double. Plain coffee: I expect to see grounds in the bottom of my cup. (I am not ashamed to add both milk and sugar.)

Drip machine coffee doesn’t do it for me. I try it, now and again, and I’m disappointed every time. Same goes for those fancy-pants pod coffee makers. I sampled a newer kind this month (rhymes with Toureg), and while it was indeed convenient, the coffee was too watery for me. Boo.

If your taste is similar to mine, give the French Press a try. There’s actually less set up and clean up than a drip machine, and if you do it right, the coffee tastes glorious. How do you do it right? Glad you asked!

  1. Keep your grounds coarse. A French Press screen is more porous than a coffee filter and you want to avoid excessive sediment. (Bonus: some roasters have convenient French Press-sized grinds.)
  2. Take your water’s temperature. The ideal water temperature for French Press coffee is 195-205°F. Colder water makes the coffee oily and limp; hotter water makes it bitter and acidic.
  3. Use proper technique. Add coffee grounds to the French Press carafe, cover with hot water, cover, and let sit for 1 minute. Uncover, and stir. Cover, and let sit for 4 minutes. Slowly press handle down, and pour coffee into serving pot or thermos. The first minute allows the crema (that lovely caramel-colored foam) to develop; the subsequent four brew the coffee.

You can buy a French Press nearly anywhere these days: online, grocery stores, kitchen stores, big box stores… heck, Ikea sells them. If you’re looking to shake up your coffee routine, give this a whirl.

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Skillet Frittata

by chefkittie on April 3, 2012

A frittata is a cross between an omelette and a quiche, and it is the best of both worlds. Quick and filling, it works well at any mealtime.
It is also an excellent way to use up leftover ingredients lingering in the fridge. I happened to have mushrooms, asparagus and potatoes, but you can use nearly anything! Ham, bacon, chicken, shrimp, cheeses, vegetables – the combinations are enticing. Here are some I’d try in a heartbeat:
  • Ham, green onion and pineapple
  • Feta cheese, roasted peppers and pine nuts
  • Chicken sausage with mushrooms
  • Shrimp, spinach and garlic
It’s important to give the egg plenty of room to spread out in the skillet. I find one cup of chopped protein/veggies is the perfect amount for a six-egg frittata. Divvy that up any way you like!
Enjoy!
Skillet Frittata
  • 6 Eggs, beaten
  • 1/8 cup Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 tsp + 1 tbsp Butter
  • 1/4 cup Onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup Crimini Mushrooms, quartered
  • 1/4 cup Roasted Asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/4 cup New Potatoes, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 oz. Goat Cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tbsp Parsley, dried or fresh chopped
  • Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to broil.

Grease a cold cast iron skillet with 1 tsp butter, then heat over medium-high heat on the stove top. (If you don’t have a skillet, an oven-safe sauté pan works too.)

In a bowl with tall sides, beat the eggs and parmesan cheese with a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Add butter to skillet. When melted, add the onions and cook until edges are translucent, 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and a dash of salt. Cook until mushrooms begin to give up their liquid and darken, 4-5 minutes. Add asparagus and potato. Cook until all ingredients are warm throughout, another 2-3 minutes.

Slowly, pour egg mixture into the middle of the skillet, giving it time to spread to the edges. Settle vegetables into an even layer. Sprinkle goat cheese evenly across the top and cook until the bottom has set and the top begins to firm.

Place skillet in oven and broil for 3-4 minutes, until the top is light brown and puffy. Garnish with parsley and carefully remove the frittata from the hot skillet. Slice into 6 pieces and serve immediately.

(Adapted for the skillet from my hero, Alton Brown.)

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