Victuals: A review and two recipes

Above, a photo that I snapped of the inside cover of Victuals the day it arrived at my doorstep– I wanted to share the beauty of this book the minute I saw it. 

Ronnie Lundy’s Victuals (pronounced “Vittles”) is a chronicle of a 4000+ mile journey through Appalachia, a story and a history told through food. It’s part cookbook, part edible atlas. It winds its way through Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina, and pays homage to the traditions of Europe, West Africa, and the pre-colonial Americas that come together in the food of the Mountain South.  It’s a book filled with seasonal and regional recipes, but also a history of the land and the people of Appalachia. Victuals reflects a confluence of climate, culture, industry, and ethnic heritage. 

Personal history also plays a huge part in this book. Ronnie Lundy grew up in Appalachia. She vividly remembers her “summers up home” in Kentucky, and recipes like the swing shift steak come directly from her childhood.

There are recipes for every season. There are recipes for bright vegetable sides and hearty meat-centric suppers. There are recipes for sweet desserts and salty snacks alike. There’s a roasted root vegetable salad that comes dressed with bacon and orange soghum vinegar. Kale potato cakes, spring ramp pot roast, miner’s goulash, and a speckled butter bean cassoulet with rabbit confit. A simple skillet cornbread, a luscious buttermilk brown sugar pie, salty cheese nabs, and the sweet-and-savory banana pudding you’ll find below. There were also a few odd but delicious-sounding pickle recipes I put on my list for the spring– picked ramps and pickled green strawberries. 

The book is divided by key food groups and ingredients. Each section is devoted to a staple food– salt, corn, beans and apples, among others. The apple section is one of my favorites. It includes fried apples, cake, a sticky pudding, and a recipe for pork & kraut in cider gravy. 

To be honest, I had no idea the food of Appalachia was so varied. Staple foods pop up repeatedly, but there’s almost infinite variation in the preparation and addition of seasonal produce. And while this book digs deep into food traditions, the recipes are modern and fresh. 

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Matcha Ice Cream

Matcha Ice Cream

Is summer over already? It’s the first day of September and the last few weeks have flown by. I find it hard to believe— as I do at the start of every season— that it’s already time for the weather to change. Soon we’ll be trading in bathing suits for coats and sweaters, ice cream for hot cocoa. Matcha Ice Cream

But let’s not think about that just yet. September is actually the warmest month of the year in the Bay Area. The highs are in the high 70s and we’re just settling in for a long Indian summer. Today we’re making another ice cream recipe to get us through the last sweaty days of the season.

Matcha Ice Cream

This matcha ice cream is cold, creamy, and sweet.  

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Old Fashioned Peach Cobbler + Finding Your True Style

Old Fashioned Peach Cobbler from Kitchen in the Hills. This is a classic southern recipe that's simple to make and perfectly delicious! #peachcobbler #summer #dessert #baking

Old Fashioned Peach Cobbler from Kitchen in the Hills. This is a classic southern recipe that's simple to make and perfectly delicious!

Note: This is a recipe post, but it’s also a personal post. If you’re just looking for the recipe, you’ll find it at the bottom of the page.

For the first two years of this blog, I wrote cheerfully about healthy recipes with trendy ingredients. I tried to muster up enthusiasm for things I wasn’t really excited about making, but had convinced myself food blogging was all about. I tried very hard, but it didn’t always feel right.

I’ve done the quick-and-easy recipes. I’ve done the health-conscious recipes. But at heart, I’m all about old-fashioned comfort foods, homey recipes, bits of nostalgia we all grew up with. 

Old Fashioned Peach Cobbler from Kitchen in the Hills. This is a classic southern recipe that's simple to make and perfectly delicious!

It’s the most down-home Southern food that makes my heart leap in my chest, that has me rushing to the kitchen to make it. It’s spicy Indian stews and curries, particularly South Indian, that bring back fond memories of childhood. It’s the sweet treat or the lovingly baked yeast bread that soothes me when I’m frustrated or flustered. 

Patience. Time moves more slowly in the South, and the food takes a little longer to prepare. I grew up in Florida around a lot of good food, with a family that ate home-cooked meals, together at the table, every single night. I grew up eating a lot of Indian food lovingly cooked by my Mom. I also ate a ton of hearty American fare, the stuff most American childhoods are filled with. Watermelon and french fries and Tostitos pizza rolls. And these foods I grew up eating are the ones that inspire what I cook today. Occasionally I’ll put a tropical twist on something, and that’s also deeply me– my childhood in Florida or trips overseas to visit my grandparents in the Indian tropics.  

Time to reclaim my roots. 

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Blue Ribbon Vanilla Ice Cream

Blue Ribbon Vanilla Ice Cream from Kitchen in the Hills. Made with a creamy custard base and real vanilla bean. Summertime classic. #icecream #vanilla #summer #dessert

Blue Ribbon Vanilla Ice Cream from Kitchen in the Hills. Made with a creamy custard base and real vanilla bean. Summertime classic. #homemade #icecream #vanilla #summer #dessert

This vanilla ice cream is a summertime classic. It’s simple. Made of a sweet custard base and real vanilla– vanilla bean if you have it. 

It’s creamy and sweet, rich but not cloying. 

Blue Ribbon Vanilla Ice Cream from Kitchen in the Hills. Made with a creamy custard base and real vanilla bean. Summertime classic. #homemade #icecream #vanilla #summer #dessert

I’d like to think it’s the kind of dessert that could be the blue-ribbon winner of a small town ice cream contest. It’s simple and traditional, but good ingredients and a lot of love make it award-worthy.
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Simple Frosted Cocoa Brownies

Simple Frosted Cocoa Brownies | Kitchen in the Hills | These simple cocoa brownies are a snap to make! They come together in under an hour, with 10 ingredients you probably already have. They're fudgy with rich chocolate flavor. #kitcheninthehills #brownies

Simple Frosted Cocoa Brownies | Kitchen in the Hills | These simple cocoa brownies are a snap to make! They come together in under an hour, with 10 ingredients you probably already have. They're fudgy with rich chocolate flavor. #kitcheninthehills #brownies

The solstice and the 4th of July are the two big days that mark the beginning of summer.

Now we are in the thick of it. Expect barbecues, picnics, and day trips to the beach. Pool parties if you’re lucky. 

These brownies are easy to pull together and they’re great for events. Take them anywhere. They’re delicious. They’re chocolatey from the cocoa, but they are also light enough that they won’t overwhelm everything else on the table. The frosting is thick enough that it won’t melt in the heat. I never thought I’d say that I liked a cakey brownie, but these have a lighter texture and I love them– something about them reminds me of childhood.

So bake these, share them, take them with you. 

This is definitely going to one of my go-to recipes this summer. I’ve made it once, and I can tell already.

Simple Frosted Cocoa Brownies | Kitchen in the Hills | These simple cocoa brownies are a snap to make! They come together in under an hour, with 10 ingredients you probably already have. They're fudgy with rich chocolate flavor. #kitcheninthehills #brownies

Our key ingredients. Flour, sugar, cocoa.

Would you believe me if I told you this recipe only uses 10 ingredients? It’s true.

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Lemon Bars

 
lemon bars
It’s the tail end of winter and the lemons are everywhere. I live in an adorable neighborhood where people fill their yards with fruit trees, flowers, and crazy-looking succulents. One house a block and a half down from me has a lemon tree out front, brimming with fruit every year in late winter. Right now there are a hundred, maybe two hundred, fruits on their tree. Every time I walk by, I consider knocking on their door and asking if I can buy a bucketful. To turn into lemon bars, lemon tarts, lemon meringue pies, lemonades. 
 
I haven’t worked up that much neighborly courage yet. The lemons in today’s recipe aren’t from my neighbor’s tree, but even the ones from the market are amazing this time of year.
 
lemons
 
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Banana Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake

This recipe feels strange and out-of-place on my blog in the middle of summer. This recipe does not feel summery at all. It feels like something you bake up in October, when the air turns crisp. Or in December, for an office holiday party. Or maybe in late February, with the first snow melts.  

But there have been summer cold snaps in the East Bay, and I feel like they perfectly justify this banana chocolate crumb cake in the middle of July. The longest day of the year has come and gone, and I feel like this city still hasn’t made up its mind about the weather.

I spent the summer solstice wandering city sidewalks, blocks of shops and houses in full afternoon sun. It was Father’s Day, so I painted a mug at the ceramics studio for my dad. I ran a few errands. I went to the market for fresh produce. Filled my bag with corn, peppers, shallots, lemons, apricots, apples, mangoes, and plums. 

I had dinner at a West Berkeley comida under string lights and a crescent moon. 

It was so hot outside, and the warm weather continued for a week and a half.

Less than a week later, the weather turned cold and foggy. I found myself in the kitchen with a mug of hot chocolate and craving this banana chocolate crumb cake. Sweltering hot days turned into a streak of chilly nights. 

The weather is back to normal over here, blazing hot and constantly sunny… But I’m still eating slices of this cake out of the freezer. 

Here’s how we make it. 

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Strawberry Thyme Quick Jam

Strawberry Thyme Quick Jam | Kitchen in the Hills

If there’s one food item to look forward to in the summer, it’s the baskets of farm-fresh, ultra-ripe, extra sweet fruit at the farmers’ market. I’ve waiting for strawberries all season, and finally picked up a gorgeous basketful at the North Berkeley Farmers’ Market. I like using strawberries to fill and decorate cakes, or cooking them into pies of all kinds.

But there’s an even simpler preparation that yields great rewards. Jam.

Strawberry Thyme Quick Jam | Kitchen in the Hills

This method works with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, stone fruits… Just about any summer fruit works here. But I like strawberries the best, for their fresh flavor and texture. 

The simplest and easiest quick jams are just fruit and a little sugar, simmered together until done. You always can fancy-up your jams with all kinds of juices, spices, and flavorings. I chose to add lemon and thyme to my strawberry jam. (Strawberries + thyme are an unexpected flavor combo, but they’re total winners to me!)

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Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies | Kitchen in the Hills

So. I promised you a blog post on Sunday, and here it is five days later. Not the greatest. I go through ups and downs with this blog, and while I love posting regularly, there are definitely more weeks than I like where it seems I’m just too busy or too stressed to make a post. This last week wasn’t bad, but I definitely didn’t put in the hours to make, photograph, write and edit a full recipe post.

This isn’t a full blog post, really. It’s more of an update, with recipe attached. A recipe that was too good not to share. I was reading smitten kitchen last week, and Deb mentioned a chocolate chip cookie that she made and liked. Specifically, this salted chocolate chunk cookie from Ashley Rodriguez’s Date Night In cookbook. 

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies | Kitchen in the Hills

The book, which features a bunch of simple, make-it-in-an-evening meals for two, had been on my cookbook wishlist for weeks. (You’ve got to check out Ashley’s website, Not Without Salt. Amazing.) I knew when I saw the cookie recipe that I had to make it. I made a batch for a dinner with friends. 

These cookies far exceeded my expectations. They were better than good. There are a lot of good cookie recipes out there, but this one made for big, crispy-edged, soft-centered packages of goodness. Not too sweet, but not too salty, either. These cookies were the first salted chocolate chip cookies that I actually liked— not bland, not too heavily salted, and definitely chocolate-forward. These are probably my second favorite chocolate chip cookies of all time, with ATK’s cookies taking first place. 

You should totally make these cookies this weekend. They are so good. 

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Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

Last summer, I learned to love rhubarb. Always unsure of what to do with the celery-like stalk, I had passed it by at the grocery store for weeks. But when I finally tried it— in pie, in jam, in lemonade— it was delicious. Rhubarb has a special sweet-tart flavor that’s like nothing else for me. At the end of the season, I made some rhubarb jam and tucked it away in my fridge for the winter.

I’m happy to say that I just polished off my last can of jam about a month ago, and I’m already seeing rhubarb in the markets again. I picked some up to make strawberry rhubarb pie. 

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

But can I tell you a secret? For a person who so loves to bake, I don’t actually own a lot of baking equipment. A few pans, spoons, spatulas, measuring cups, whisks and mixing bowls. That’s about it. I recently upgraded from one simple metal baking sheet to two. Not a single pie dish in sight. This kind of minimalism is necessary when you’re living in a small apartment, but it does limit your options. 

I usually grab a disposable pie tin when I have an important pie to bake. (See this recipe.) But this time I didn’t want to grab a flimsy foil tin. I also wanted something that would look just as gorgeous as the traditional slice of lattice-top pie, with half the effort and mess. And bonus points if I could take it to-go. 

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