Boots in the Kitchen

Friday, July 14, 2017

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies 

In a picturesque valley tucked between two mountain ranges along California's coast, you'll find a beautiful woman bent over lush gardens as the sun rises across vineyards and farmlands in the small agricultural community of the Santa Ynez Valley. Known far and wide for her genius in the kitchen, Rebecca Firth, author of the blog, DisplacedHousewife, also carries a passion for gardening, a hobby that brings peace and balance to her sometimes-hectic life as a mom and business owner.

An urban-dweller by nature, Rebecca initially found the quiet life of the valley with its horse ranches and wineries a bit challenging. After all, she had just come from the adventurous bustle of living in Beijing (you can read more about that below).  But soon the beauty of the land found its way into her heart and now she tends the soil, writes the recipes and bakes the sweets, all while raising her two kids, Stella and Gavin, in a place they call home. And she even wears boots like the locals.

Read on for my interview with Becca:

Flowers from the garden. 

Tell us a little bit about your life, Becca:  I live in the Santa Ynez Valley with my two kids, Stella and Gavin. We moved here about eight years ago. For work, I create recipes for my blog, DisplacedHousewife, and brands. My days are filled with work, my kids, gardening. We have lots of family in the area so I feel like there is always a birthday party or some type of celebration happening.

Rebecca Firth, author of the blog DisplacedHousewife
Photo credit: Stella Firth-Wang 

Where did you grow up?  Tell us something about your childhood. I grew up in Long Beach which is about 3 ½ hours south of where we are now. When I think of my childhood I think of playing with the kids in the neighborhood. I feel like I had a pretty typical, southern California childhood. Lots of time at the beach and riding my bike around the neighborhood. My best friend Suzi moved to Hawaii when I was in third grade, I think. After that, I would go spend summers with her and her family on Kauai. Those are probably some of my favorite memories. The house was in the center of Hanalei Bay, on the water. We would lay on the beach all day, play in the water and go to sleep listening to the ocean.  When we were older we would work on the tour boats that went up and down the Napali Coast. So much fun!

A vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. 

How did you come to love cooking and baking? Was there an early influence in your life? My mom was always baking cookies, cobblers and pies when we were growing up, and I’ve always had a strong sweet tooth. It wasn’t until I moved out of the house that I started to love baking and cooking. Later, when we moved to Beijing I would bake to feel comforted, to give myself something to do and to remind my kids and me of home.

Favorite cookbooks. 

Have you always been in your current profession? Before we moved to China, I was working for Viacom in their Internet group, and I dreamed about going to culinary school. But then I had kids, moved to China and that dream took a backseat. When we finally moved back to California, my mom told me that Sunset Magazine was looking for holiday recipes and that I should submit my five-spice cranberries. I did, and they bought the recipe. After that I started putting recipes on my blog every week. I seriously love every aspect of it - coming up with recipes, testing them and then photographing and writing about them. Heaven.

What is your favorite kind of food to make? I love to bake. Period. Cookies, cakes. I love learning new techniques and trying different ingredients and using them in different ways. So basically, anything with butter, sugar and flour.

Meyer Lemon and Chamomile Muffins 

What inspires you? I am heavily influenced by the seasons. For sure by what’s in season at that moment, and then it’s also about food that creates memories. In the fall I’ll think about apples, for example. What would be a cozy fall apple treat that my kids and I would love? And then I’ll think of everything I might want to bake with apples. Then, since there is only so much time, I’ll whittle it down to this season’s must-haves for me. Right now, I’m obsessed with cherries. I have two trees and they were prolific this year. I made a list that included everything from cherry kombucha and cherry jam to cherry tea cake and bourbon soaked cherries. I wish I had time to do all of it.

Chocolate Rye Cherry Cookies 

Have you had any funny experiences while cooking or learning to cook? I think the funniest would be baking when we lived in China. Trying to find ingredients or substitutions for ingredients, converting to the metric system because my oven was in Celsius and butter, etc. would come in grams. Or when I busted out my roasting pan at Thanksgiving and it wouldn’t fit in our tiny oven.

I taught our ayi (a domestic helper), Xiao Zhang, how to cook some of our favorite dinners like spaghetti and meatballs and pan-fried chicken tenders. I still have my hand-written recipe with her version of the recipe, in Chinese characters, next to it. One time I asked her to cut a pineapple and she individually cut every eye off, so as not to waste any fruit. If I asked her to wash grapes she would also peel the skin off every grape. I think those ‘Lost in Translation’ conversations are some of my favorites. What I wouldn’t give to have her here with us in the US! Then I might have time to make everything on the cherry list!

 In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” (Albert Camus)

Are you involved in your local community? I love volunteering and have helped at a hospital with terminally ill kids, taught adults to read and write, and have served on our school board and as a class parent. Much as I love being involved in these noble causes, I have learned as a single parent that boundaries are important and in this season I am concentrating on running my business and raising my kids.

Overnight Raspberry Jam Buns 

What are your hobbies or favorite activities? Cooking, baking, doing stuff with my kids, reading and gardening. I had no idea I would love to garden so much until I bought our current house. Slowly, over every summer, I’ve added more planter beds (for a total of nine), and I wish I had room for more. Watering in the mornings is my favorite. You get to look over how the plants are doing, pick some fruits and veggies to eat that day, pull some weeds. It’s pretty peaceful.

A leek from the garden. 

Tell us about your experiences in China. Living in China was probably one of the best experiences ever. There is so much that I disliked about it - it’s incredibly dirty and polluted and my marriage tanked while I was there; however, I met so many wonderful friends and had some phenomenal experiences. And in spite of all that dirtiness, I absolutely fell in love with Beijing. I wouldn’t want to live there again, but there is a lot of greatness to be had when you completely absorb another culture.

I treated our time there like an extended vacation and I think that’s what made it manageable. It all felt like an adventure, although I think it could have easily been overwhelming moving to China with a three-year old (Stella) and a ten-week old (Gavin). Every weekend we would go to the markets, hutongs or the Forbidden City. I ran a half marathon on the Great Wall, took cooking classes in an old courtyard, flew kites in Chaoyang Park. We traveled all over Asia during that time, going to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore. I loved exploring the different markets, food, people…getting to know the different cultures. It was seriously so much fun. I mean, it could get incredibly frustrating not knowing the language and Beijing is an aggressive place. I don’t want to act like I didn’t get salty and fed-up, because I did. But my memories are of the good parts, for sure.

But the best part of all, 100%, was the people. I forged some truly amazing friendships while there. We would spend our birthdays and holidays together. I am most grateful for all of them. And even more grateful that we’re all, most of us, still friends.

The markets were probably my favorite places to comb through. I loved going to the fabric market because it was this unreal place. I don’t even know if I can describe it - a huge labyrinth that seemed to go on forever. There was the Russian area of the market, with lots of fur and donkeys pulling carts piled high with fabric. People shoulder-to-shoulder rushing to get somewhere. My friends and I would get fabric, meet up at one of our houses later and have wine. A tailor would make clothes for us and/or our kids based on our sketches. I would love to do that again!

I loved going to the food markets, obviously. My favorite was Sanyuanli. I could get anything there. And my favorite market for stuff (vintage or kitsch) would be Panjiayuan. The tiered wicker baskets I bought there still sit on my kitchen counter.

For all I can appreciate of my time away, nothing makes one appreciate home, family and friends more than being away. I truly appreciate where we live. I never realized what a California girl I am, to my core, until I was plopped in the middle of the Chinese Capitol with all its pollution, sand storms and dry, freezing winters.

Petite Raspberry Scones with Fresh Lemon Glaze 

Makes 16 Petite Scones


For the Scones
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour plus 3 tablespoons
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder, non-aluminum + double-acting
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 generous tablespoon lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in 8 pieces
  • 2/3 – 3/4 cup heavy-whipping cream, cold
  • 1 large egg, cold
  • 1 cup-ish raspberries, washed and dried completely
For the Glaze
  • 2 cup of powdered sugar
  • Juice from 1 lemon and about 1 tablespoon of zest
  • 1 tablespoon or more of cream to thin

  1. Mix your cake flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, lemon zest and cinnamon. I use a fork here. You can grab a whisk to use but then you’re just dirtying up one more utensil…and you’ll need the fork for step four. Say that twenty times fast.
  2. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender, two forks or your hands. Make sure the butter is pretty evenly mixed in, with a healthy smattering of pea-sized chunks of butter throughout.
  3. Mix the egg and 2/3-3/4 cup of cream together in a separate bowl and then drizzle over the flour mixture. Using your fork, fluff around a bit more until a ball is starting to form. I usually get in there with my hands to force the issue. If it looks like it could use a couple of kneads to form a ball of dough, I do that…but not too aggressively. Max out at about five-ish kneads.  I do all of this in the mixing bowl.
  4. Lift the dough up and sprinkle the fruit on the bottom of the bowl. Set the dough down and gently press it into the fruit. Then flip the dough over and fold the dough onto itself, like a taco shell and press it together. Gently work the fruit into the dough in as few presses as possible. It will be a bit messy. Fruit will break and bleed a bit. That’s ok. It will look pretty in the end. Promise.
  5. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. If using the parchment, dust with some flour. Flour up your hands really well.
  6. Separate the dough into 4 equal-size lumps on top of the parchment/silpat and mold into discs, about an inch thick. Don’t overwork your dough. You just want them to look relatively circular and even. To me, scones are rustic and that’s part of their charm. A really smooth and polished scone makes me nervous. Like someone that never smiles.
  7. If your hands are getting sticky, rub some flour between your palms to absorb some of the moisture. Just know that there is a fine line with flour here. Add enough that your dough is super easy to work with and you run the risk of having dry scones. Don’t add enough and it will be a hot sticky mess, enough to send you to the sanitarium.
  8. Pop the discs, uncovered, into the freezer. Set the timer for about 30 minutes.
  9. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  10. Pull the scones out of the freezer.  Using a sharp knife (I love my bread knife for this), cut each disc into 4, equal-size scones (yielding 16 cute, petite scones total). When cutting, make sure to press down quickly and lift straight up. If you wiggle the knife in there or use a sawing action, your sides won’t have a nice, defined edge. *At this point, you could give them a little more time in the freezer (until frozen) and then wrap tightly (as noted above) and put back in the freezer to bake another time.
  11. Pull the scones at least two inches away from each other…they need room to expand. You can gently loosen the bottoms with a spatula if they’re sticking to the parchment a bit. Some recipes tell you to keep the scones pretty close together while baking as it will help them rise up. However, if they’re too close, the scones will grow back together and be kinda mushy on the sides. Error on the side of space.
  12. Set the timer for 13 minutes. Start watching them around the 13 minute mark to see how they’re doing. Make sure the area around the fruit is cooked through (especially if they were frozen solid). Don’t go over on the time looking for a bronze tinge. As soon as you see a light tan around the edges, pull them out. They should look firm on the tops and not dough-like, but not even close to George Hamilton dark.
  13. Set the scones still on the baking sheet on a cooling rack. Keep them in a draft-free area.
  14. After about 5ish minutes, you should be able to take them off of the baking sheet and let them finish cooling on the rack.
  15. While the scones are cooling…grab a bowl and whip up the glaze. Mixing schmooey is a tango…listen to what it wants and needs. Throw the zest, juice, powdered sugar and cream in a bowl and mix away. Does it need more powdered sugar? More lemon juice? Add more of each in little bits until you get the right consistency…which is when it is thin enough to drizzle, yet thick enough to stop in its’ tracks and not just run off the scone. Let it sit and mingle while the scones cool. Smear the schmooey on top and you’re done.
  16. These are best the day that they are made. However, if you wrap them up tightly and store at room temperature, you can happily serve the next day as well.

See baking tips below...

Scone Crib Sheet:

  • Freezing Your Dough. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of freezing your scone dough. In previous recipes I have suggested a minimum of 30 minutes in the freezer. This does a couple of things. First, it will give you a higher rise once this dough hits the heat of the oven. Second, it makes this moist dough much easier to deal with. I have become incredibly cocky when it comes to freezing dough, oftentimes leaving it in the freezer overnight. I’m a bit maniacal that after a quick freeze (say, 60 minutes?), you then wrap it tightly in parchment paper, then plastic wrap, then foil and then place in a re-sealable plastic bag so as not to lose any extra moisture. However, I recently made scone dough, placed it in the freezer and went wine tasting. Totally normal. And P.S., I totally forgot about them. Next morning I shuffled to the freezer and thought, crap, I’ve ruined them. Popped them in the oven (straight from the freezer) and they were perfection. If they have been frozen for longer than an hour, make sure to tack on several minutes to the bake time. Also, if you have fresh fruit in the frozen scone (such as raspberries), check to make sure the dough closest to the fruit is cooked through.
  • Flour. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of using cake flour in this recipe. You could use all-purpose flour for the entire recipe, but it will not yield the same fluffy finished product. It’s worth it. You can make your own cake flour at home. For every 1 cup of cake flour, use 1 cup of all-purpose flour. Then take 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour out, and put 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in. Everyone and their mother will tell you to sift the flour and cornstarch combo 6 times. I grab my whisk and fluff the ingredients around a bit and keep working. You decide on which approach you’d like to take.
  • Raspberries. Adding the raspberries is going to be a bit messy and it will make your dough feel a bit odd (almost slick). They’re going to break and you might even have a bit of a panic attack and think you’re doing it wrong. You’re not. Punch on through. You can do it. Also, make sure that you clean and dry your fruit (completely) in advance of adding it to the dough. Likewise make sure it is fresh, ripe and firm. If the fruit is overripe it will bleed like hell all over the dough. The fruit will bleed regardless, however overripe fruit will make it worse. We want pretty streaks, not a crime scene.
  • Baking Powder. Go for the aluminum-free baking powder. Scones can be a bit on the blonde side and the aluminum in baking powder can give them this faint, bluish hue. It’s not a deal breaker, but if you’re at the store pick up the non-aluminum kind. Additionally, you want double-acting baking powder. This is non-negotiable.
  • Humidity. In regards to the amount of cream to use… If you live in Palm Springs and there is zero humidity, use the full 3/4 cup of cream. If you live in Hawaii, you probably only need 2/3 cup of cream. If you live in a city with average humidity then use 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon of cream. I know this seems anal, but it’s important stuff. Nobody wants a dry scone. I’m going to start a new campaign: #humiditymatters
  • Master Recipe. Consider this a ‘master’ scone recipe. You can create all sorts of combinations with this…make it your own. Chocolate chip? Orange? Get creative people.

Brown Butter Muscovado Banana Bread 

Before We Get Started:

  • Brown Butter. I love to brown butter and shove it in everything…sweet or savory. I explain the process in the instructions below, but my biggest tip of all is to not walk away from your pan while you’re browning butter. It will go from melted butter to burnt in the blink of an eye. So do yourself a favor and stand watch. As soon as the milk solids start turning a nice and toasty bronze, remove the pan from the heat and pour the browned butter into your electric-stand mixer (if using) or a bowl.
  • Muscovado. I absolutely adore muscovado in baked goods. Muscovado is an unprocessed sugar that hasn’t had the molasses removed. It has a wet, sand-like texture and brings lots of caramel and toffee notes to everything it touches. It’s magic. And a match made in heaven with brown butter and bananas. However, I’m all about options. I tested this recipe with light and dark brown sugar and both worked great. If you want to dip your toe in the muscovado water, this is a great recipe to do so. My favorite brand is the India Tree Dark Muscovado Sugar (you can get it on Amazon). If you can’t be bothered, don’t. Ain’t no shame in your game.
  • Bananas. You’ll need FIVE bananas for this recipe. We’re not kidding. It’s banana bread. I LOVE the banana on top…both from a looks + taste perspective. I love the mega banana flavor it gives to the bread. But if you only have the three bananas needed for the actually bread, skip the top and don’t sweat it. Also, you want your banana ripe and getting brown spots on the peel. But you don’t want an overly ripe banana that’s mushy and whose taste has gone off… you know what I’m talking about? The flavor goes bad if they are too ripe…don’t waste your time making bread with those bananas.
  • Espresso. If you don’t have any espresso handy, go for some fresh brewed, strong coffee. Works perfect. I realize not everyone has an espresso machine. And if you don’t, you should get one. I couldn’t live without mine. Let me know if we need to talk about this more.
  • White Whole Wheat Flour. I feel like this recipe is a highlight reel of all of my favorite things. I love baking with white whole wheat flour…it lends this gentle flavor and texture that can’t be matched. I have so many recipes (cookies and other fun stuff) using this flour that I highly recommend you get yourself some. I haven’t tested this recipe using other flours, so if you get frisky and mess around with the flours I hope you’ll leave notes in the comments below.
  • Bread Tins. More important than the size of your bread tin, is how high you fill it with batter. Fill your tins somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 full (and not a hair more). This beauty is going to rise and you don’t want to have it spilling over…like it did during one of my tests. All over my oven. Disaster. You can make two bread loaves like I did here or during another test, I used half of the batter for muffins (and reduced the bake time for those). Because sometimes it’s fun to mix it up. …Sometimes. In terms of bread tin size, I used my Ovenex which is about 7 1/2 X 4 and another bread tin that is a touch larger.
  • Chocolate. I am a card-carrying chocolate whore. If I could bathe in a pool of it nightly, I would. But, I realize some people, like my dad, would just rather I left it out of everything I bake. That’s fair. So, don’t feel tethered to the 1 1/2 cups of chocolate I throw in here. Get frisky and throw in toasted + chopped pecans or nothing at all. This is your banana bread. OWN IT.
  • Put a Banana On It. The entire reason I fell down the rabbit hole of this recipes was so I could bake a loaf of banana bread with a banana on top. True story. I liked the way it looked with the cut side of the banana down best, but I’ve seen people put the cut side up. Let your conscience be your guide. ***If you are not going to eat the banana bread the same day that you bake it, you might consider skipping the pretty banana on top. It gets a touch weepy if it sits around. However, if you’re eating the bread the same day that you bake it and you want an A+ for presentation, put the banana on top.
  • Inspiration. I always like to give a shout out to my inspiration for recipes… First, Deborah from @rainydaybites made the banana bread from The Hot Bread Kitchen cookbook. If you don’t have this cookbook and baking bread interests you, get it. It’s a wonderful book…and the pita recipe is life changing. They bake their banana bread for a whopping two hours. I had to try it. Second, Mary Ann from @thebeachhousekitchen paraded a banana bread made with brown butter across social media and I was dumbfounded…why had I never tried this? Lastly, one of my favorite banana bread recipes is from the first Canyon Ranch cookbook and I love it. I borrowed the espresso in the bread from their recipe. Love me some good inspo.

Makes Two Loaves

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed + 2 bananas cut lengthwise for the top of the bread
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup muscovado or brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • ¾ cup buttermilk, room temperature, shaken
  • 2 tablespoons espresso or fresh-brewed, strong coffee
  • 2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup white whole-wheat flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • ½ teaspoon all spice
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 ½ cups chocolate chips

  1. Preheat your oven to 275 degrees F and place a rack in the top third of your oven. Butter and flour you bread pans. If you’re feeling it, add some parchment paper to the pans (see photo) to make it easier to pull the loaves out of the pans when done.
  2.  Place the butter in a small sauce pan and melt over medium heat. Once melted, crank up the heat to medium high. Stand by, stirring and watching. This isn’t the time to go and put your dry ingredients together. Small golden bits will start to settle on the bottom of the pan and it will start to smell nutty. Once this happens, take it off of the heat and pour into either your electric stand mixer (if using) or a bowl. Let it cool a minute or two.
  3. Add the 3 peeled + mashed bananas, granulated sugar and muscovado to the electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (with the butter already cooled in there) and mix on medium high for about 2-3 minutes or until everthing is well blended and the banana is broken up into small bits.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together your eggs, buttermilk, espresso and vanilla and add to the banana mixture. Mix for about 1 minute on low until blended.
  5. In a small bowl whisk together the all-purpose flour, white whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, cinnamon, cloves, all spice + nutmeg.
  6. Dump the flour mixture into the banana mixture and mix until just barely blended. Take the bowl out of the mixer, add the chocolate chips and fold until mixed in as few strokes as possible.
  7. Pour the batter into your prepared bread pans and place your banana slices cut side down. Take care not to fill them more than 1/2 to 3/4s full. Bake on the top rack of the oven for 90 minutes to 2 hours or until a toothpick comes out clean. Some bits of chocolate on the toothpick are fine.
  8. Let the bread cool completely before removing from the pan. If you added the parchment to the pan, you may be able to get them out sooner…because a warm slice (fresh from the oven) is sublime.
  9. I hope you love this banana bread! Be sure to tag me @displacedhousewife #displacedhousewife so I can see your beautiful loaves!!

Photos courtesy of Displaced Housewife and used with permission.

Fruit Bowl Pie

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Fruit Bowl Pie 

My mother loved her fruit bowl. Mealtimes always included fresh fruit, although there were plenty of times in the winter when she opened a can of Del Monte fruit cocktail and served it in an aged pottery bowl. But the best kind was in the summer when fresh fruit was bountiful. We would cut up peaches, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries and serve them in her etched-glass bowl with a bit of sugar sprinkled over the top.

This is my Mother's fruit bowl in a pie, packed with memories and the fresh fruits available at produce stands and farmer's markets around the area. It's the perfect thing to carry along on a picnic or to place on a potluck table at the annual family reunion. Use your favorite crust recipe (or find my heirloom one here) then fill it with the fruits of your choice.

Happy Fourth of July!


Fruit Bowl Pie

(Recipe tweaked slightly from Wood & Spoon)

1 Double Crust Pie Dough recipe, prepared and chilled

3 cups of peeled and sliced peaches
2 cups of mixed berries (I used strawberries, blackberries, blueberries)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon water, fork-stirred


Place a baking tray in the top third of oven. (This is to catch any drips from the pie.)

In a large bowl, combine the peaches, berries and lemon juice. In a small bowl, toss together the sugars, corn starch, cinnamon and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the fruit and stir to combine. Set aside while you prepare your pie dough.

On a floured surface, roll out one half of the chilled pie dough. Lay carefully in the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan. Press gently into the pan leaving dough to extend over rim about 1 inch. Trim off excess. Chill in the freezer while you prepare the top crust.

Roll out the other portion of dough and cut into 1" or 2" strips for a lattice top. Lay these strips on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze for about 10 minutes.

Remove pie pan from freezer. Taste your fruit filling and if you think it needs more sugar, add an additional 1/4 cup of either brown or white sugar. Fill pie pan with fruit filling. Discard any exorbitant amount of juice. Dot the butter randomly over the top of the fruit filling. Arrange the lattice strips over the top, trimming the ends to match the bottom crust. Crimp the edges. Brush pie with the egg yolk mixture. Put the pie back into the freezer for about 15 minutes while the oven preheats to 425 degrees.

Bake on baking sheet in oven at 425 degrees F. for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees F. and bake an additional 45 minutes, or until pie is golden brown and there is a steady bubble coming from the filling.

Note:  I like to sprinkle the crust with sugar about 15 minutes before the pie is done baking.