• crispy pan pizzas

    Last week Julie did a post about pizza made with a flour tortilla crust. At first glance, I thought her idea was stupid. I grew up creating makeshift pizzas from halved English muffins and bagels. Soggy-crusted and bready, those pizzas were never as good as the real deal. The tortilla pizza was bound to be just another disappointing creation. Or so I thought.

    I was wrong. Turns out, these tortilla pizzas are unique and fabulous, and it’s all because of the two-step process: first on the stove top and then under the broiler. This method creates a crispy-thin crust that’s still chewy and pliable and a bubbly, golden brown, cheesy top. Pizza perfection in five minutes flat.

    Even though these pizzas are a snap to make, if you’re feeding a small herd of people as I usually am, the process can get a little tedious. Like pancakes and grilled cheese, the process is not complicated, but you can’t leave your station. To speed the process, I use two skillets: while one pizza is being assembled, the other is broiling.

    When I served these for supper the other night, the family went wild. A few days later, I made them again for lunch and got the same reaction. My kids usually eat two pizzas each, though my older son and husband can put away three or more in a sitting.

    Crispy Pan Pizzas
    With inspiration from Julie of Dinner With Julie.

    In the photos above, I used a mixture of fresh mozzarella and grated, plus my homemade pepperoni (that the kids like better than the bought stuff!). I was rushing, so the pizzas aren’t quite as brown as they should be.

    large flour tortillas
    olive oil
    pizza sauce
    mozzarella cheese
    topping of your choice: pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, black olives, pesto, etc.

    Set a cast iron skillet over a burner set to medium heat. Lightly brush the skillet with olive oil and smack in a tortilla. Smear the tortilla with pizza sauce, sprinkle it with cheese, and add your toppings. As soon as the bottom of the tortilla is golden brown—and you want to make sure it really is golden brown all over because this is what gives the pizza its structure and crunch—pop the skillet under the broiler for a couple minutes. Once the cheese is bubbling and brown, and the tortilla edges have crisped up nicely, the pizza is done. Slip the pizza onto a plate, slice it into wedges, and serve.

    This same time, years previous: keep everlastingly at it, the quotidian (1.27.14), swimming in the sunshine, Friday evening fun, down again, Gretchen’s green chili, to meet you, and ode to the titty fairy.

  • through my lens: a wedding

    Last Saturday was the first time I photographed a wedding.

    My friend was getting married and asked me to be the informal photographer. She had hired a professional photographer for the family photos and the ceremony (she wanted me to be relaxed and present, not distracted, for the actual wedding), but it was my job to catch the behind-the-scenes stuff. I showed up at her house before noon and played, I mean, took pictures, all the way through until the bell-ringing, firecracker-popping send off.

    I loved having permission to photograph what I found interesting without the stress of having to be perfect. Which was good, because one, most of the lighting was artificial and I don’t have the fancy flashes and lenses to compensate, and two, I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. Whenever something caught my eye, I just clicked.

    My favorite part was capturing the photos that no one else was taking, the un-posed, casual moments that told a story. The calming hand massages. The quiet conversations. The panic over a torn stocking. The mad dash upon being released from a formal photo session. Except for when I told my friends’ kids to grab their friends for some spontaneous outside photos, all the photos were off-the-cuff.

    I tried to capture as many of the different wedding day components as possible: the teen boys’ last minute washing of a car, the sound tech guy, the food, the ushers, the guests, the hyper, post-wedding children, the caterers. (My one regret is that I didn’t get many photographs of the groom’s family. I had never met them before, and since I was working with a 50mm lens, I couldn’t discreetly snap pictures from a distance. But it felt invasive to get all close and personal, so I mostly just didn’t. And of course, that didn’t feel right, either.)

    The whole day was loads of fun, but by the end I was whupped. The exhaustion was bone-deep and debilitating. All I wanted was to lay flat on my back for a very long time. So I did. The end.

    Congratulations, sweet friend. Thank you for including me in your special day.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (1.26.15), and then we moved into a barn, housekeeping, flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and shoofly cake.  

  • the quotidian (1.25.16)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace



    Garden steaks: fried slabs of leftover baked sweet potatoes.

    When I was a kid, friends sent my family a care package with these
    old-fashioned cream-filled ginger cookies.
    Twenty-five years later, I baked them for us.

    She figured out how to crack eggs with one hand, so I made her teach me.

    In my PJs: time to shovel.

    Forget rainbows, it’s a snow-bow!

    Rosy, and sprinkled with melting snowflakes.

    Car-skates.

    Crazy about the kittens, this boy is.

    It’s a good thing she’s got a good attitude.

    This same time, years previous: first day of classes, five things, grumble, grumble, thoughts, and baked Brie.

  • blizzard of 2016

    “You know, when I was in college in Northern New York, we’d go to bed at night and the next morning there would be three feet of snow on the ground and it was no big deal. But now we get snow and everyone falls apart.”

    My husband was standing in the hallway, shedding his snow clothes, or maybe putting them on yet again, his eyes dancing. All week long he had regarded the storm predictions with cool reserve, but as soon as the storm hit, he turned giddy, so charged up he practically crackled with excitement.

    just for fun: crashing the plow into a snowbank

    He was a little bummed it wasn’t a total white-out.

    “You think I should string a rope between the house and the chicken coop just so we can say we did?” he asked.

    on a quest for cocoa powder: digging out the basement

    The power only briefly flickered off twice, and the Internet never once went down (!), but I stayed on red alert the whole time, keeping a carafe of hot water at the ready, the bathtub filled with buckets of water for potential toilet flushings, and the dishes washed up. And you know what? Aside from my niggling (and unnecessary) worry, the two days of blizzard turned out to be a delightful mini vacation.

    We played Rook and Uno, watched PK (not your typical movie—think Indian movie with subtitles, theology, excellent humor, and Bollywood—but I highly recommend it), cracked open a 1000 piece puzzle, moved snow around, rigged various shelters for the animals, and made cupcakes. I did some recipe testing for Luisa, took pictures, made hot chocolate, watched my son sprint around the house in his swimming trunks, baked a chocolate cake, talked to my mom on the phone, and read by the fire.

    Now it’s Sunday, the sun is shining, and we’re digging ourselves out from under.

    This same time, years previous: rocks in my granola, and other tales, what you can do, on thank-you notes, pink cupcakes, in no particular order, movie night, on not wanting, and capturing the moment.    

  • and so it begins

    The snow has started!

    I did all my errands yesterday, refreshing our supplies of bagels, fruit, and heavy whipping cream and tracking down sweat shirts, snow boots, and a winter coat for my severely under-dressed youngest child. Then this morning my husband tore around the house vacuuming, straightening up, and even dusting (or so a child reported) before taking the three younger children into town to get gas and more groceries and snow clothes.

    ***
    Two Asides

    Aside Number One:
    I saw a comment on social media in which someone mentioned that it makes them pissed-off mad when people empty the grocery shelves of bread and milk pre-snowstorm. Which confused me. Isn’t it smart to go shopping before a storm? I mean, don’t go crazy and take more than you’ll use, but what about simple foresight? I want plenty of milk on hand for multiple rounds of hot chocolate, plus lots of butter and eggs for my cookies and cakes. But now I’m wondering if I should feel guilty for hitting up the grocery store?

    Aside Number Two: 
    My son is taking an EMT class, and during last night’s session they toured the dispatch offices. My son reported on the eve of the snowstorm, the EMS system was revving into high gear, prepping for Day One’s rash of accidents. Day Two, he said, should be fairly calm because everyone is stuck at home. But on Day Three and Four of a snowstorm, the police department starts getting a lot of calls because—get this—there’ll be a spike in domestic violence. That there would actually be a connection between snowstorms and domestic violence incidences never occurred to me, but I guess it makes sense, in a sadly twisted sort of way. We’ll all be crawling out of our skin by then.

    *** 

    Right before the snow hit, I got a call from a friend who had just gotten a newborn foster baby. “Let me bring you lunch,” I said.

    So as the first flakes started falling, I flew around the kitchen cooking and assembling: macaroni and cheese, peas, slaw, and vanilla pudding. A loaf of fresh sourdough bread, clementines, and a wedge of pesto torte and crackers completed the meal. By the time I finished, the kitchen windows were fogged and the roads were blanketed with snow. My husband still wasn’t back from town, so my older son and I loaded up the little black car (never mind that the gas tank was nearly empty) and struck out.

    “We are those idiots driving in a snow storm,” I muttered as we inched along. My son kept his foot off the brake and didn’t even flinch as an oncoming car slid gracefully into the ditch.

    “The car behind them is stopping,” I said. “Keep going.”

    Delivery made (and new baby briefly clucked over—so cute!), we crept home. When we turned onto our road, I heaved a huge sigh. Only then did I realize that I had been barely breathing all along.

    Now, in typical Murch fashion, my husband and the kids are outside preparing for the storm in the storm. And I, in typical Jennifer fashion, am gearing up for a rash of baking while fretting about the huge mess I’ll have on my hands should the power go out.

    This same time, years previous: lazy stuffed cabbage rolls, the quotidian (1.20.14), hobo beans, world’s best pancakes, the quotidian (1.23.12), moving forward, chocolate cream pie, corn tortillas, and peanut noodles.      

  • lemon cream cake

    After receiving several enthusiastic recommendations, the kids and I have started watching The Great British Baking Show (through Netflix streaming). Everyone said we would love it, and they were right. It’s just a regular baking show with contestants, challenges, and a slow culling of the group that leaves one winner standing (or so I assume since we haven’t gotten to the end of season one), but waaay better because everyone speaks with a British accent. Cakes are “sponges,” crackers are “biscuits,” and the generic term for baked goods is “bakes,” as in “Your bakes have a nice even color.” Isn’t that delightful? Also, the moderators are cooky-funny and everyone is kind and supportive which makes the show warm and lighthearted. 

    It’s actually inspiring, too. The contestants are amateur cooks (there’s a 17-year-old!) but most of them are leagues beyond me. I don’t really care about all the decorating (though it’s great fun to watch), but my knowledge of pastry creams, piping creams, gênoise sponges, fondant, shortbread-like pastry, homemade caramels, and meringues is rather limited. I’m generally for desserts that are straightforward, but the show is making me reconsider my hum-drum approach. Why not knock out something a little fancier than normal? You know, an extra sauce here, a couple different fillings there… It can’t be that hard, right?

    So I decided to make a layered yellow cake. I’d split the cake into two layers, fill it with vanilla pastry cream and raspberry sauce, and top the whole thing with billows of whipped cream. That was the dream anyway. The reality went like so:

    1. Some of the cake batter seeped out of the springform pan and charred into a stinky mess on the oven floor.
    2. The cake was underbaked in the middle, but I simply made like a Brit and cut out the middle. I’d make extra whip cream and ice the whole cake.
    3. The jam didn’t thicken properly.
    4. The pastry cream wasn’t firm enough to support the second layer (is any pastry cream firm enough for layering???) and oozed all over the plate.
    5. There was no way the whipped cream, no matter how much I made, could cover that wreck of a cake. So…
    6. I made a vanilla pudding, chopped the cake into slices, and made a trifle from the cake, pudding, whipped cream, and more berries.
    7. After a day or so in the fridge (because no one was crazy about my cake wreck), the creams in the trifle separated and the bottom of the bowl filled with water so the chickens had a sweet feast.

    I licked my wounds and went back to drawing board. I was certain a good sponge and cream fillings were possible—the British contestants made them all the time. Some quick recipe research later and Round Two was underway.

    And it was a success! I made two sponges—so light! so airy! so buttery!—and divided them each in half to make a four-layered cake. The vanilla cream filling held its shape and provided a light cheesy creaminess. And a thin schmear of lemon curd between each layer added punch.

    I assembled the cake one evening before supper. I thought of serving it for the book club I was hosting that evening, but I had already promised the group warm chocolate chip cookies so I decided to stick with the plan. After they left, I pulled the cake out of the fridge to admire it. I nearly cut into it—the temptation was almost physically painful—but cake at 10:45 at night? That was too late. Plus, it was so beautiful. Something that lovely required a big reveal with lots of people present to ooh and aah. So back into the fridge went the cake.

    Lunchtime the next day, the house was bursting with people: my parents, brother, nieces and nephews. It was the ideal cake-devouring crowd, and devour it they did! My mother swooned, and my husband—the man who is not a huge fan of sweet stuff—even had two pieces. The leftover cake I claimed for myself, eating it piece by delicious piece over the next several days. When the kids realized that the cake was gone, they were miffed. And rightfully so.

    Lemon Cream Cake
    Recipes for the cake and vanilla cream are adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook.

    I still don’t know how to make a gênoise sponge, but I don’t care. The real deal looks unnecessarily complicated, and this hot milk sponge tastes wonderful and is  simple to make. KISS, y’all (keep it simple, stupid).

    The lemon curd (I used store-bought) was delicious, but be forewarned: it adds sweetness to an already sweet cake. Perhaps a tart jam—maybe folded into the vanilla cream?—would help to cut the sweetness.

    for the hot milk sponge:
    ¾ cup milk
    6 tablespoons butter
    1½ teaspoons vanilla
    1½ cups flour
    1½ teaspoons baking powder
    ¾ teaspoon salt
    3 eggs
    1½ cups sugar

    Put the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

    Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. 

    Cream the eggs and sugar for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the warm milk mixture. Whisk in the dry ingredients.

    Pour the batter into two greased, parchment-lined, 9-inch round cake pans. Bake the cakes at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes. Cool cakes completely before inverting onto a wire rack.

    Cakes can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for a day (and probably longer, if needed).

    for the vanilla cream:
    8 ounces cream cheese
    ½ cup sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    2 cups whipping cream

    Beat the first four ingredients together (if using a stand mixer, use the whip attachment) for a couple minutes. Turn the mixer to low and slowly pour in the whipping cream. Increase the speed and whip for about two more minutes or until stiff peaks form. Cover with plastic and chill until ready to use. 

    for the assembly:
    the two hot-milk sponge cakes, split in half lengthwise (use a serrated bread knife)
    the vanilla cream
    a double batch of buttercream frosting (or maybe a double batch of cream fluff frosting?)
    about 1 cup (or a 10 ounce jar) lemon curd

    Put one of the cake layers on a stand. Spread it first with a thin layer of lemon curd (about 1/3 cup) and then with a third of the vanilla cream. Repeat the layers, ending with the final layer of cake. Chill the cake for an hour to let it set up.

    Dirty ice the cake with the buttercream. Chill to set. Do the final icing. Store cake in the fridge. Let set at room temp for about 15 minutes before serving.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (1.19.15), cream cheese dip, the good and the bad, polenta and greens, multigrain bread, chuck roast braised in red wine, quick fruit cobbler, cranberry relish, Julia’s chocolate almond cake, spots of pretty, and five-minute bread.    

  • the quotidian (1.18.16)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace



    Pork tacos!

    Delivery from a concerned son:
    for the sick mama who slept for four hours (four hours!) in the middle of the day.. 
    On the other side of the glass where they belong.
    Reading comic books is serious business.

    Tip: give ancient shoes a facelift by burning off the frayed threads.

    Fulfilling my duties as Casual Wedding Photographer. 

    This same time, years previous: cranberry bread, on kindness, on kindness, through the kitchen, roll and twist, Guatemala!, day one, vanilla cream cheese braids, and the quotidian (1.16.12).  

  • the quotidian (1.11.16)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace



    The nine-year-old bakes!
    Apple potpie: my brief foray into German baking.
    It’s like they’ve never seen neighbors walking through the fields before.
    Assembling the Aladdin lamp.

    My favorite way to eat a Lancashire Cheese Bomb.
    …to sit my butt down already.

    (Click the link. It’s good.)
    Because I was having a fit, a child helpfully added it to my to-do list.

    Fixed, for now.

    Sunday snuggle. 

    This same time, years previous: sticky toffee pudding, spinach lemon orzo soup, eyeballs and teeth, creamy blue cheese pasta with spinach and walnuts, and earthquake cake.

  • our little dustbunnies

    Upon arriving at my aunt and uncle’s house for brunch, my children discovered the kittens on the porch and came running.

    “Can we have one, Mama? Please? Please?”

    “Aw, aren’t they adorable,” I said, cuddling the little ball of fur. And then I stunned them by saying, “Yeah, we can probably have one. Let me talk to Papa.”

    Apparently I stunned my husband, too. He stared at me, eyes a-bug. “Are you out of your mind? We don’t need more cats.”

    Throughout the day, the kids and I worked on him. The three younger children agreed to chip in ten dollars each (my older son remained aloof) to help cover neutering costs, and I explained to my husband that it won’t be forever that we have children in our home begging for kittens, so why not live it up a little, hmm? Hmm?

    I’m a good arguer: we came home with two.

    I’ve never had a long-haired cat before and am totally loving these kittens. My aunt said that when they were little, they were so furry that you couldn’t see their legs so they looked like little dust balls rolling across the porch. When they sleep, they get limp and pliable, like fluffy play dough.

    They are outside cats, but since we brought them home in the middle of a cold snap (finally!), they’ve been spending their nights in a crate in the back hall. And I let the kids hold them when they are reading or studying. There’s something so soothing about their warm little bodies nestled into the crook of your arm.

    They are both male (we think) so the kids named them James and Peter. (Can you guess which book those names are from?) At first glance, the kittens seem identical, but James is bigger and more aggressive while Peter is punier and laid back. I’m slowly learning to distinguish between them, though I still have to chant Giant James and Puny Peter to remember which name goes with which cat.

    This same time, years previous: sourdough crackers, one year and one day, the quotidian (1.9.12), hog butchering!, moving big sticks of wood, and baked hash brown potatoes.  

  • how we kicked off 2016

    On New Year’s Day, we piled into the van and drove to Pennsylvania for a weekend of family, friends, and good food. My son drove—his first notable drive on I81 (the evilest of highways)—and I rode shotgun. Aside from one almost-missed exit (thanks to my husband’s faulty directions), it was a low-stress driving lesson, whew. We ate lunch at Subway, took advantage of the free coffee deal at Sheetz (the kids had a blast with the cream and sugar machines), and popped in at my grandparents’ for a quick visit before eventually heading to my friend’s house for the night.

    Amber’s House
    Amber and her family live in the house she grew up in. We’ve been friends since we were in utero (it’s possible), so I’ve always felt at home in her home. It’s magical, the kind of place dreams are made of: thick stone walls with deep set windows (the sills make excellent plant benches), three cellars at three different levels, staircases so steep they make you feel like you’re hauling your sorry butt up Mt. Everest, gardens galore, a five-story barn, a half-mile lane, a sometime-there creek, outbuildings, etc, etc, etc.

    My kids positively, absolutely, completely, and totally adore the place. There is so much to do, explore, see, savor! This particular visit they played hide-and-seek, hiked through the meadow to the creek in search of freshwater clams, made a fort in the haymow, used the mow-shoot as a slide, fed the animals, and played with the kittens. My husband chipped in with barn floor repairs and wood splitting. I washed dishes, gave Amber a birthday foot massage (she’s ticklish, so I was probably torturing her), snacked on homemade beef jerky and dried apples, and talked myself silly. We ate shaggy tigers and apple pudding cake for supper, and the next morning, after my husband and I got back from our run, hot chocolate and cinnamon buns were waiting.

    We had to drag ourselves away—so much fun we were having!—and ended up arriving late to our next destination point…

    The Gathering, Part One: Ham at Brad and Zoe’s
    The annual event is kicked off with a noontime ham dinner at my cousin Zoe’s house. (Zoe also happens to be Amber’s niece. And Amber is my second cousin once removed. Have fun with that.) For the most part, I sat at the kitchen table, drinking copious amounts of coffee and yakking with the aunts and cousins. There were games and great uncle piggy-back rides. The guys moved a piano. Some cousins had an egg cracking contest. It is said that you can’t crack an egg in a one-fisted squeeze, so my son tried and the raw egg shot out of the end, nailing my cousin in the arm and face.

    Around five o’clock, people started wandering into the kitchen. They didn’t say much, but their presence was unnerving. Are they hungry already? Zoe asked. Should I get out more food? Soon the island was covered with plates of cheeses, meats, veggies, crackers, and fruit, and after a bit we cleared a section to make room for the cookies and cakes. At bedtime, everyone made their way back to their homes (or host homes). A few of us lingered around the kitchen island, drinking water and talking about shared Netflix accounts and urine because we’re exciting that way. My husband and I slept upstairs on the bed, the kids spread around us on the floor in their sleeping bags.

    The Gathering, Part Two: Brunch at Jim and Val’s
    The next morning, Uncle Jim and Aunt Valerie (Zoe’s parents, and Valerie is also Amber’s older sister), made the traditional feast: waffles, made-to-order omelets, granola, sweet rolls, fruit, pudding, scrapple, coffee, bacon, etc.

    Afterward, we lounged about, playing games and visiting. There were more kittens to play with (we brought home two!), and my son attempted another fireball but got bested by the wind. We took a family picture, and some of us ate chips loaded with fresh horseradish just for the nasal passage-searing fun of it.

    And that, my friends, is how we kicked off 2016. Happy New Year!

    This same time, years previous: what it means, date nut bread, between two worlds, so worth it, salted dulce de leche ice cream with candied peanuts, turkey noodle soup, and what I did.