The end of an era has arrived: this month marks the last Secret Recipe Club exchange, ever.
I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this. I have been part of this group since I was pregnant with Jake (who just turned 4!) so the SRC has influenced a lot of my cooking and baking throughout the years. Forty-two recipes on this blog happened because of the SRC. When I joined, it was with the idealistic hope that I would make friends with like-minded bloggers and find some delicious, well-curated recipes to add to my repertoire. What I found was that my preferences and standards were quite different from most of the rest of the group. I’m sure I haven’t been alone in struggling to find that single recipe from an assigned blog that fits into my own tastes and cooking style.
The challenge of the SRC exchange was often truly a challenge, and honestly, not always something I felt excited or joyful about. But I have grown as a cook and baker because of it! Because of the SRC, I have learned to look for something good in unexpected places. I have cooked some dishes I might not otherwise have tried. I have grown in testing new recipes and tweaking them to work better, or to work better for me. I have also grown as a blogger in taking my posts more seriously and making sure I am proud of what I write about.
This month, the last month of the Secret Recipe Club, I am working from the blog I’m Hungry, written by Traci. Her great strength is semi-homemade foods: if you are looking for ways to get food on the table quickly and easily, she is your gal. I was originally looking for a good Thanksgiving side dish, since it is November, but I ended up settling on soft pretzels, something I’ve been planning to bake for almost as many years as I’ve been part of SRC.
If you’ve been hanging out here for a while, then you already know how dearly I love Sarah of Well Dined.
She is one of my favorite people on the planet! Sarah has been unspeakably kind and generous to me in the seven years (!) we’ve known each other. She is thoughtful, thought-provoking, and hilarious. She is bold—and I don’t just mean her hair—and she pursues life fully. I am grateful to Sarah for stretching me as a cook, for her encouragement and patience through all of my motherhood woes, and for being the best friend a girl could ask for.
Which is why I am so excited to be cooking from Well Dined for the September Secret Recipe Club challenge!
Months ago, when Sarah joined the SRC, I mentally earmarked this spinach and gruyère strata to make whenever I got assigned to cook from her blog. But…surprise! During one of our subsequent lunches, she mentioned this amazing caramelized French toast she makes, and I knew my life would not be complete without it, so I decided to make that instead. And then, when the assignment actually happened, I got so excited about making somekind ofravioli, which Sarah makes all the time—and we talk about endlessly—that I threw out all my breakfast plans entirely. This somehow turned into the joy of hiding vegetables inside of pasta sauce.
I have no words. Words have left the building and they have been replaced by drooling.
Cookie butter. Truffle. Brownies.
You see, my friends, this is exactly what is so great about the Secret Recipe Club! When I fall into a dessert rut, I love exploring the creativity of other bakers, like Tracy of Pale Yellow.
I started out this month planning to make a healthy dinner. I had even geared myself up to make a vegetarian version of Tracy’s taco salad. But my mind just kept drifting back to her desserts, amazing treats like Chocolate Hazelnut Cake and Fancy Pants Brownies and Tiramisu Cheesecakes. And, oh glory, cookie butter truffle brownies. A match made in heaven.
When I was in high school, my best friend and I liked to take walks through Carytown. We almost always started our jaunts at Montana Gold Bread Co., where we would snag a free slice of challah and slather it with butter before venturing out to a bench to people-watch and pretend we were cool.
Challah has always been a little amazing to me. It’s stunning, with an intricate braided pattern, as well as soft and chewy and a little sweet: everything that a great bread should be.
Until now, I’ve been a little afraid to try baking it on my own. I worried that braiding the bread would be messy and awkward and, well, hard.
Dena has devoted her blog to kosher cooking. I have only the barest grasp on what it means to keep kosher, but at its most basic level, it requires avoiding certain types of animal meats (famously, pork products, but also shellfish and a few others) and completely separating meat from dairy (both in what you eat when and in how you prepare foods). Dena has shared many traditional Jewish dishes that look interesting, but since I am a vegetarian and a baker, I knew immediately that I wanted to try her challah recipe.
When Dave and I were on our honeymoon, we visited the town of Gruyères. We toured the cheese factory (!) and ate a very winey pot of fondue. Simple and delicious. We went to the castle and admired all of the artwork and the gardens and the ancient armor. And then we wandered down the cobbled streets and decided we needed even more fondue.
Let’s pause to acknowledge the fact that I speak German pretty fluently and French…barely at all. And Gruyères is definitely part of French-speaking Switzerland. Where no one speaks German and very few people speak English.
So. Dave and I found a place to eat, and we were so excited for our dinner! We ordered this interesting-sounding fondue called raclette.
Haha. Guess what? Racler means “to scrape” in French. And raclette turned out to be a block of cheese under a heat lamp, which we scraped off as it melted and spread it on potatoes. (Dave wishes me to inform you that it was a whole bucket full of new potatoes. A bucketful.) After we conferred very awkwardly with our waitress (language barriers are real!), we laughed it off and ate the simplest meal in the history of our relationship together. Not exactly fondue, but definitely an amusing (and, um, expensive) story!
But my take-away? Gruyères is a simple place for real people. Makes sense that the most amazing cheese in the world is best served simply! Like in this easy and delicious Spring tart.