Inner Fat Kid Love

culinary delights to satisfy your inner most cravings

OMG, has it seriously been 4 months since my last post???  What have I been doing with my life?!?!  Well, I was downing a ridiculous amount of Brussels sprout salad for a while.  Around Thanksgiving (because that’s how long it’s been, dear reader) my work was hosting a workshop about healthy eating options for the big turkey-centric holiday.  Healthy is not synonymous with bad in my book, but it’s also not synonymous with good, either.  The workshop description lured people in by offering a free pre-T-day feast.  Free food at work?  SOLD!

The workshop featured “healthy” options for every part of the meal including a leaner turkey, less fatty stuffing, a cranberry sauce that wasn’t shaped like a cylinder with ridges, and a more nutritious veggie side dish in the form of a Brussels sprout salad.  I was an 80’s latchkey kid with parents that ran a Chinese restaurant.  Dinner came in a take-out container or was assembled by placing 1.5 handfuls of Cheetos or Doritos in between 2 pieces of Wonder bread for the times my parents were too busy to bring food home.  The only thing I knew about Brussels sprouts was what I heard on the Nickelodeon show “You Can’t Do That on Television!” and it wasn’t good.  Brussels sprouts looked like teeny, tiny baby cabbages and only seemed to be good for throwing at people - not things people ate.

When the cooking demos were completed, plates of food with every portion of the healthier T-day feast was passed out.  I tried everything (it’s FREE!) and enjoyed the Brussels sprout salad the most.  I was very surprised at the mild flavor of the raw Brussels sprouts and the way the salty cheese and sweet pomegranate seeds played off each other.  I found myself wanting more.  Much, much more.  My beau has always been a huge fan of Brussels sprouts so I decided to include it in my T-day menu.  I should also mention that a couple of folks also left comments on the site stating they were also going to make this salad so I was not alone in my affection for the Brussels sprouts salad.

The cooks putting on the demo suggested slicing the Brussels sprouts into very fine ribbons to get the best taste and crunch.  I found that doing this with a knife was super time-consuming and identical results could be achieved with a food processor.  I made this salad twice, the first time with bacon and the second time without.  I must admit that I didn’t miss the bacon the second time around.

Brussels sprouts Salad

- From Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Healthy Challenge Next Steps Thanksgiving Cooking Demo

Serves 8 

Ingredients:

  • 24 Brussels sprouts, cleaned and sliced very thin
  • ½ cup Parmigiano–Reggiano, finely grated 
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts, in small pieces 
  • 9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 
  • ½ cup pomegranate seeds 
  • Salt and Pepper 

Preparation: 

  1. Slice Brussels sprouts very thin with a sharp knife or using a food processor.  Toss the sprouts in a bowl, top with toasted walnuts.
  2. Add 2/3 of the grated cheese.
  3. In a small jar, add the olive oil, apple cider vinegar and mustard with salt and pepper.  Put a lid on the jar and shake it up!
  4. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss with a set of tongs. 
  5. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese and the pomegranate seeds on top. Best served cold and soon after tossing the dressing.  However, leftovers are good for up to 5-7 days in the fridge.

DO AHEAD: Dressing can be made up to 2 days in advance and walnuts can be toasted up to 2 weeks in advance.

Happy new year!  Like everyone else, my inner fat kid has been stuffing her face with all sorts of goodies over the holiday season.  I have finally awoken from my food coma to find that it is a new year and I have a lot of catching up to do to wrap up cooking from 2013.  While I have been doing a bunch of cooking in 2014, I made a ton of good eats at the end of 2013 that I want to share with you, so let’s start with the biggest foodie holiday - Thanksgiving.

Ever since I moved away from my family, I have had Thanksgiving dinner on my own.  Often times I break bread with the family of my significant others or friends.  This year, my companion’s brother and sister-in-law came to Seattle to join us for Thanksgiving.  Growing up, my companion and his brother Mike rarely saw their aunts and uncles on holidays.  They decided a while back that they would make a concerted effort to not be like their parents and spend holidays together as much as possible.   This Thanksgiving marked the first time that both of them had moved away from their native Boston so I think the desire to spend time with each other was particularly high.

This is not the first Thanksgiving dinner I’ve prepared by myself, so I was pretty confident that I could pull off a tasty dinner.  My guests wanted a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing (actually dressing, but I’ll get into that later), and veggies (here’s a vine of the entire meal:  https://vine.co/v/hP7EjtmZHdV).  I had recipes for everything except for stuffing.  I had used a corn bread stuffing in the past with mixed results.  I liked it the first year and then found it so-so the past couple of years I’ve made it.  After some trolling on Epicurious, I found a recipe for Wild Mushroom and Spinach stuffing.

Before I go any further, let me clear up a point of confusion.  Stuffing is a mixture usually comprised of starch (usually bread of some sort), veggies, and herbs that are stuffed (get it?!) inside of poultry and cooked while dressing is a side dish that is cooked outside of the bird.  I should also note regional colloquialisms also dictate which term is used - states south of the Mason-Dixon generally use the term “stuffing” instead of “dressing”.  Most folks will urge you not to cook your stuffing inside of the turkey.  The main reasons for this are: the turkey cavity is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and the stuffing inside of the cavity will not reach a high enough temperature to kill all the bacteria that may make everyone sick.  

As I have mentioned before, Sara Foster is amazing and her recipes are simple and super tasty.  She definitely doesn’t disappoint here.  In fact, Mike and his wife Jessie, self-professed non-stuffing lovers gobbled this stuff up.  I made this in a slightly larger pan than called for in the recipe (15x10) and they ate about half of it on Thanksgiving day.  At the end of their 2 day-stay, I was left with fond memories of a hilarious Cards Against Humanity game and 1/2 C of this stuffing.

Wild Mushroom and Spinach Stuffing

-From Sara Foster on epicurious.com

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound assorted fresh wild mushrooms (such as chanterelle, stemmed shiitake, and crimini), cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 9 cups)
  • 3 cups chopped onions (about 1 pound)
  • 2 cups chopped celery (4 to 5 stalks)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 5-ounce container or bag baby spinach leaves
  • 12 cups (generous) 1-inch cubes day-old pain rustique or ciabatta bread with crust (about 1 1/4 pounds)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 cup (or more) low-salt chicken broth

Preparation:

  1. Melt 1/4 cup butter with olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add diced wild mushrooms and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Sauté until mushrooms are tender and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes.
  4. Transfer mushrooms to large bowl.
  5. Melt remaining 1/2 cup butter in same skillet over medium heat. Add onions and celery. Sauté until vegetables are tender, about 12 minutes.
  6. Add all herbs; sauté 1 minute longer.
  7. Add spinach and toss until just wilted, about 1 minute.
  8. Add vegetable mixture to bowl with mushrooms.
  9. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  10. Divide bread between 2 rimmed baking sheets. Bake until bread is crusty but not hard, reversing sheets after 5 minutes, 10 to 12 minutes total. Transfer to very large bowl and cool.
  11. Butter 13x9x2-inch baking dish.
  12. Stir vegetable mixture into bread. Whisk eggs, salt, and pepper in small bowl to blend well; whisk in 1 cup broth. Add egg mixture to stuffing, tossing to combine evenly and adding more broth by 1/4 cupfuls if dry.
  13. Transfer stuffing to prepared dish.
  14. Bake stuffing uncovered until cooked through and brown and crusty on top, 50 to 60 minutes.
  15. Let stand 10 minutes.


Note: Costco had chanterelles available for dirt cheap so I used them exclusively in this recipe.

DO AHEAD: Veggies can be cooked and cooled several days ahead (Steps #1-8).  Also, the bread can be sliced, toasted, and cooled several days ahead (Steps #9-10).  If veggies and bread are prepped in advance, start at step #11.

First, a quick note: I know I teased you with a Vine of my Thanksgiving feast and then failed to blog about it.  However, the recipes and stories will make it onto the blog before we ring in 2014!  Mike and Jessie - the stuffing recipe will be yours!
So, do you know what time it is?  BAKEFEST 2013!!!!  Bakefest is the term I use to describe my annual holiday baking binge.  And when I say binge, I mean 12 pounds of butter, 5 dozen eggs, 15 pounds of flour, 20 pounds of sugar (white, dark brown, light brown, and powdered), and 5 pounds of chocolate (dark and semi-sweet) kind of a binge.  Go big or go home, amiright?!  I started doing this in grad school as a token of appreciation for all the people who helped and supported me and have continued the tradition at my “real job”.  
I get more and more ambitious every year, baking more (B’12: 495 individual pieces) and different types of goods (B’12: 12 types of baked goods).  Certain recipes are included every year (Foster’s brownies) while others are making their appearance in my kitchen for the first time (Dorrie Greenspan's World Peace cookies).  Also, I have added a couple of gluten-free and dairy-free items to accommodate those with dietary restrictions.  So, without further ado, here is the starting line-up for this year's Bakefest!!!!  Check back in a few days for recipes, stories (oh the stories!!!), and food porn quality pics.   
  1. Chocolate chip cookie with sea salt
  2. Ginger spice cookie
  3. Brown butter snickerdoodle
  4. Peanut butter kisses
  5. Gluten-free peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie*
  6. Nora Ephron cookie 
  7. Mocha Sandwich cookie
  8. World Peace cookie
  9. Moon cookie
  10. Linzer cookie
  11. Foster’s brownie
  12. Mint chocolate brownie
  13. Pistachio and cranberry biscotti
  14. Red velvet cake pops
  15. Chocolate meringue cookie*
  16. Rosemary shortbread
*Gluten and dairy free. 

Here is a Vine taken by my sweetie pie of all the food I made for Thanksgiving before we scarfed it all up: https://vine.co/v/hP7EjtmZHdV

When I started kicking around the idea of starting a food blog, I started looking at other food blogs for examples.  One that stood out was Orangette, the blog started by Seattle-native Molly Wizenberg.  Molly’s blog has attracted a lot of attention (she’s published a book, opened 2 restaurants, and received a legit marriage proposal from the whole bit).  While I don’t think I could ever achieve that type of success, I wanted a taste of what it could be like.  Enter salted chocolate chip cookies from Delancy’s, one of Molly’s restaurants which has quite the reputation for churning out stellar cookies.  

I found the recipe on Molly’s blog and immediately started to question my commitment to this baking endeavor because: 1) I would have to weigh my ingredients.  I mean, pulling out my kitchen scale is going to be so much harder than pulling out my measuring cups; 2) The recipe called for both cake and bread flour.  This means I would have to make a special trip to the store and invest in flours that I may never use again; and 3) The recipe called for Maldon’s sea salt, which is a lovely, briny, flaky uber expensive sea salt.

The more I thought about my objections, the more I realized I was just being plain stupid:

1) Weighing dry ingredients is way more accurate than measuring them out with a cup or spoon.  This is especially true for flour, which absorbs and sheds moisture based on humidity.  It’s drier in the winter than it is in the summer so less flour is generally needed because the flour has absorbed more moisture from the air and is “heavier”.  Moreover, the amount of air that is incorporated into the flour is greatly influenced by how you scoop the flour into the measuring cup.  For example, more air is likely to be incorporated into a cup of flour if you use a spoon and scoop the flour into the measuring cup than if you plunge the measuring cup directly into the bag of flour and scoop.

2) While I would have to buy bread flour, I knew I could create a substitute for cake flour with existing ingredients already in my kitchen.  Here is an easy cake flour substitute that I have used several times with resounding success: 1 cup all-purpose flour - 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour + 2 tablespoons corn starch = 1 cup cake flour.  Besides, I have been looking for a chocolate chip cookie recipe to include in Bakefest (annual holiday baking extravaganza that takes place in my kitchen, resulting in hundreds of cookies for friends, family, and co-workers) for a while now.  If this recipe is a winner, I would use up the specialty flours in no time.

3) I was recently in Cape Town, South Africa for a work conference and bought Maldon’s sea salt in the local grocery store for R40, which is roughly $4 (compared to $10+ at specialty grocery stores or Amazon in the states) so the amount of money I’m pouring into this is far less than what it could have been.

So, basically I should stop b*tching and start baking!  Weighing the ingredients was not as big of a pain in the a$$ as I thought it was going to be.  I mean, you just put a bowl on the scale, tare it (zero it out so the scale only weighs the stuff you put in the bowl and not the bowl itself), and dump in your ingredients.  I bought a fleur de sel (French for “sea salt”) a while back and wanted to see how it would taste on the cookie so decided to do a comparison with the Maldon.  I must admit that I liked the Maldon better because I thought the salty taste was more pronounced, it blended better with the rich chocolate, and it was more visually appealing (see pic below, Maldon on the left and fleur de sel on the right).  I also like the idea of portioning out the cookie dough before letting it rest.  That way, you don’t have to sweat and grunt your way through portioning out hard cookie dough and you can just place the perfectly shaped orbs on the cookie sheet and bake away.

I absolutely loved these cookies!  They were slightly crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.  The sea salt served as the perfect foil for the dark chocolate and totally satisfied my craving for salty-sweet baked goods.  These are definitely getting added to the Bakefest 2013 roster!

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt
- Minor adaptations from Orangette

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Yield: ~48 cookies (4 dozen)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups minus 2 Tbsp. (8 ½ oz.) cake flour
  • 1 2/3 cups (8 ½ oz.) bread flour
  • 1 ¼ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp. coarse salt, such as kosher
  • 2 ½ sticks (1 ¼ cups; 10 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ¼ cups (10 oz.) light brown sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (8 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ pounds bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks, preferably about 60% cacao content (e.g. Trader Joe’s bittersweet chocolate bars-chopped into chunks or Ghirardelli chocolate chips)
  • Sea salt (I strongly suggest using Maldon)

Preparation:

  1. Combine flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Whisk well; then set aside.
  2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until very light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  4. Mix in the vanilla.
  5. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  6. Reduce the mixer speed to low; then gradually add dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.
  7. Add the chocolate chips, and mix briefly to incorporate.
  8. Using a small ice cream scooper, scoop the dough onto a sheet pan or large platter (I used a 8 1/2 x 11 pan with a lid).  If you have more cookie orbs than your pan/platter can hold, you can stack them on top of each other.  Just separate the layers with wax or parchment paper.
  9. Cover everything tightly with plastic wrap (or lid, in my case), and chill for 24 to 36 hours - and up to six days.
  10. When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.
  11. Place mounds of dough on the baking sheet, making sure to space them evenly (cookies will spread during baking).
  12. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt, and bake until golden brown but still soft, 12-14 minutes.
  13. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 2-4 minutes and then transfer the cookies to a cooling rack for about 15 minutes to cool completely.

Note: Molly’s recipe calls for using a larger ice cream scooper (3 fluid ounces, or about 1/3 cup) so feel free to make the cookies bigger, but remember that they will take a bit more time to bake (15-20 min).

Note: Joy the Baker states that the flour and cornstarch need to be incorporated really well and aerated so she recommends shifting the flour and cornstarch mixture about 5 times prior to using it.  I was unaware of the shifting part so did not do so and my cookies turned out fine, but cakes may be less forgiving.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.  Cookies can be stacked directly on top of each other.

need to bake.  It’s been a long week and I need to spend some quality alone time in the kitchen with my Kitchen-Aid mixer.  And after posting my trials and tribulations with snickerdoodles, I figured I would have to redeem myself to you, dear reader.  Honestly, I’m not a crazy hack!  I know how to bake!  But, I made a conscious decision when I started this blog that I would include both the wonderful and not-so-wonderful things I made.  After all, within every failure is a hidden learning experience, right?  Well, at least that’s what I tell myself…

I have been on a salty/sweet kick lately.  I have been chowing down on honey-enrobed macadamia nuts from Trader Joe’s for the past couple of months and can’t seem to get enough.  So when my petit chou heard about my random baking binge and requested white chocolate and macadamia nut cookies, I immediately agreed.

I love white chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookies.  In fact, I use to get them from the Mrs. Fields cookie stand at the mall when I was a kid.  I didn’t have much time to find a recipe so I ended up going with the first thing I saw that had decent ratings.  Tyler Florence is probably better known for his cooking than his baking (there is a pretty rigid divide between the 2 camps in the culinary world).  Regardless, his recipe was easy-peasy and delicious.  The dough came together beautifully (no sandy mess!) and quickly.  I thought the mix-in to dough ratio was perfect but one little cookie monster stated she would have liked more white chocolate chips.  I suppose you could add 1/4 cup more white chocolate chips, but I wouldn’t add much more than that because that may exceed the mix-in saturation point.

White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Cookies

-Adapted from Tyler Florence’s recipe on epicurious.com

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Yield: ~36 cookies (3 dozen)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped roasted salted macadamia nuts (about 4 1/2 ounces)
Preparation:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper (or Sil-pat).
  3. Sift first 3 ingredients into medium bowl.
  4. Beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add both sugars and beat until blended.
  5. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla.
  6. Add dry ingredients and beat until just blended.
  7. Slowly beat or fold (by hand) in white chocolate chips and nuts.
  8. For large cookies, drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto prepared sheets, spacing 21/2 inches apart.
  9. Bake cookies until just golden, about 12 minutes. Cool 2-3 minutes on baking sheets before transferring to cooling rack to cool completely.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.  Cookies can be stacked directly on top of each other.

I recently completed a dance class series with Danae and 2 other students.  The class was both physically and technically challenging.  I don’t know about the other women in my class, but I felt like I was getting my a$$ handed to me every week.  But Danae wouldn’t let us give up and by the end of the 6 weeks, we were doing tricks that we thought were only possible in zero-gravity.

I loved the intimacy of our little class.  We each contributed to the supportive and encouraging atmosphere of our Tuesday night class.  Grace infused the class with sweetness with her shouts of “Pretty!” and “Nice!” while Sara added depth with her memorable quips such as “Like a boss!”.  And me, well, I sprinkled on the profanity with shouts of  ”Oh F#&K! that hurts!!!”

I think we were all a little sad at the end of the 6 weeks.  Sure we would see each other at other drop-in classes, but it would never be the same.  We decided to have a little celebration after our last class.  Grace brought cookies from Dahlia Bakery, Sara brought lemon pudding cakes in a cup (think of a Jell-O shot in cake form set in a beer pong cup), and I brought snickerdoodles.  

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Danae had previously mentioned that she was a big fan of snickerdoodles and I had never made them before so I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to give it a try. I started looking through the Food Network website and happened upon a recipe from Gale Gand.

I use to surf Food Network all the time back in the early-mid 2000.  Over the last several years, I have found that the channel has shifted its focus more towards entertainment than food.  Regardless, Gale Gand is mad legit, having won a James Beard Award (the culinary world’s way of saying that you’re a rock star) in 2001 for Outstanding Pastry Chef and opening an award-winning restaurant in Chicago.

I started making the cookies, but had a brain fart somewhere around step 3.  Instead of gradually adding in the dry ingredients, I dumped the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in all at the same time.  I also failed to notice that there was corn syrup in the recipe, so that was omitted as well. The end result was a dry, sandy dough that wouldn’t hold together.  I tried to salvage the dough by adding in 1 tablespoon of melted butter.  Nope.  The texture was still the same after 2 additional tablespoons of melted butter.  I decided to throw it in the fridge and hoped that it would firm up.

After a couple of hours, I checked the dough and found that it would stick together if I mushed it together and rolled it into a ball.  I followed the remaining steps as written and the cookies actually looked pretty good, as evidenced by the photographic evidence above.  The only problem was that I was baking the cookies in my little stud muffin’s oven and I am still getting use to its finicky ways so the batches were terribly uneven.  One batch would yield perfectly chewy cookies while the next batch would yield cookies so hard my co-worker had to visibly struggle during a meeting to break them in half.  The resulting cookie was tasty but my struggle with the dough haunted me.  Am I a bad baker???  Had Gale Gand led me astray??  Does my stud muffin’s oven have bad juju??? 

Snickerdoodle epilogue…

I would venture to say that I’m a pretty good baker.  After all, I won a couple of awards in grad school for baking.  So why were these snickerdoodles such a sh*t show?  I began reading a bit more about the science of baking and arrived at the following conclusions:

1) My biggest mistake was adding the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) to the wet ingredients (butter, sugar, and eggs) all at the same time instead of gradually.  Unless stated otherwise, I generally add dry ingredients in thirds.  The first bit of flour is coated with fat (butter and eggs) so it is unable to form gluten (a protein that results from mixing flour and water and the stuff of ubiquitous allergies).  This results in a nice, tender cookie.  However, there is way more flour than fat in this recipe so there will be some flour that isn’t coated in fat and will be able to form gluten.  Gluten development is strongly encouraged in foods that need a lot of structure and give, such as pasta and bread.  However, too much gluten in a delicate baked good such as a cookies is bad because it makes the cookie tough, which is good in life, but bad for a sugar craving.  Some gluten is needed to provide structural support to the cookie.  I think the addition of all the ingredients at the same time did not allow for the proper amount of gluten to develop, resulting in a sandy mess.

2) The addition of butter made the situation worse because it was bringing more fat to the party, which further inhibited gluten development.  Instead, I should have added a bit of water to the dough to help it come together.  Doh!

3) From what I’ve read, the main purpose of the corn syrup in this recipe was to make the cookie a bit crispier and browner.  Of the batches that turned out well, the cookie was crisp around the edges and slightly brown.  Perhaps addition of the corn syrup would have made the cookie crisper and browner, but the cookie really didn’t need it.

Snickerdoodles

-From Gale Gand on foodnetwork.com

Yield: ~36 cookies (3 dozen)

Ingredients:

For the topping:

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the cookie dough:

  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preparation:

  1. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
  2. To make the cookie dough, stir together the dry ingredients.
  3. In a bowl with a paddle attachment, cream the butter.
  4. Add the sugar and continue to mix, then add the eggs one at a time, corn syrup, and vanilla, and mix thoroughly.
  5. Add the dry ingredients and mix until blended.
  6. Chill dough 1 hour if it’s sticky or difficult to handle.
  7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  8. Roll balls of dough about the size of a walnut then roll them in the cinnamon sugar to coat.
  9. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment (or Sil-pat) 2 1/2 inches apart.
  10. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until puffed up and the surface is slightly cracked.
  11. Let cool on the sheet pan a few minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.

Note: The recipe provided here is the original recipe without any of my bizarro modifications.

I already own a lot of kitchen crap so I am very selective when it comes to adding more stuff to my already stuffed cupboards.  I recently came upon a Groupon for a Cuisinart immersion blender.  I have always seen chefs on TV using this thing and I always thought it was a superfluous piece of equipment, especially since I already had a gorgeous 12 cup Cuisinart food processor.  Then I realized that the food processor could chop things very finely, but it just couldn’t puree stuff.  Wah…wah…

The precipitous drop in temperature has me constantly seeking out things that will keep me warm.  Chunky sweaters, mugs of tea, soups…hmmm soups….

My immersion blender had just arrived and I wanted to take it out for a spin (pardon the pun).  I looked at a couple of different recipes and finally settled on a potato leek soup recipe from epicurious because of its simplicity in ingredients and preparation.  Normally I make Sunday night dinner for my male companion and myself, but I had previously made plans with Nathania (of flourless PB and chocolate chip cookie fame) to go to dinner and a show.  I had some free time in the afternoon so decided to make the soup anyways so I could eat it for lunch during the week.  But after a long weekend of family holiday photo shoots, Nathania was beat and running late for our playdate.  It was beginning to look like we weren’t going to have time for dinner out, so I suggested that we have dinner in.  

Thankfully the soup requires almost no attention and comes together quickly.  The immersion blender was easy to assemble (the handle has all the electronic stuff and the detachable shaft is were all the action happens), operate (2 buttons: high and low), and clean.  I also liked the guard around the blade because it prevents the blade from nicking the pot.  The immersion blender pureed everything into a silky smooth texture without the addition of dairy (not counting the butter at the beginning).  However, I found the soup to be a little on the thick side after it was pureed so I added an extra 1/4 cup of water to the recipe below.  Regardless, the blender is a definite keeper!

Since the soup didn’t take long, I decided to fry up some bacon and toast some croutons as optional accompaniments to our soup.  The bacon added smoky, salty, crispy indulgence while the croutons added a substantial crunch.  Nathania was surprised that dinner was waiting for her when she arrived.  At the end of our meal, she looked at me and said “That was exactly what I needed.”  Well said my friend, well said.  

Potato and Leek Soup

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-Adapted slightly from epicurious.com

Yields: ~5 bowls of soup

Ingredients:

  • the white and pale green part of 2 large leeks, split lengthwise, washed well, and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (or 1 tablespoon olive oil)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of Better Than Bouillon Superior Touch Chicken Base
  • 1 pound fingerling potatoes

Preparation:

  1. In a large heavy saucepan cook the leeks in the butter with salt and pepper to taste, covered, over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are softened but not browned.
  2. Add the water, Better Than Bouillon, and potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice, and simmer the mixture, covered, for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
  3. Submerge the immersion blender into the pot (it helps to tip the pot slightly) and puree on high until the soup is smooth and free of lumps (~3-5 minutes)
  4. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: The original recipe called for 11/2 cups water and 1 cup of chicken broth.  I didn’t have any chicken broth so I substituted in the Better Than Bouillon.

The original recipe called for peeling the potatoes but I was lazy and feeling in need of fiber so I left the peels on and gave the potatoes a thorough wash.  This will not likely affect the taste, but it will probably affect the appearance of the soup as you may see very small brown flecks of potato peel.

I moved to Seattle almost 2 years ago.  People told me about the constant drizzle, magnificent views, the Space Needle, and the stunt fish chucked around Pikes Place Market to delight tourists.  But no one told me about the PNW phenomena known as “The Seattle Freeze”.  

"The Seattle Freeze" is the large, icy chasm that separates the non-native Seattleite from the natives you thought you hit it off with.  You know how it goes, you meet some one at a coffee shop/bar/party/exercise class and you start talking.  You discover that you have similar interests (after all, why else would you be at the same place at the same time?) and swap contact info.  You e-mail/call/text/smoke signal the native Seattleite suggesting that you have an adult playdate and the native declines, citing such innocuous reasons such as "I already have plans/I’m hiking/I’m biking/I’m foraging for mushrooms".  You think, no big deal.  You try again.  Again, a polite decline to your invitation.  Believe me - it’s not you, it’s them.  Most people here already have their close and intermediate circle of friends filled and they’re not accepting any more applications.  It doesn’t matter how qualified you are to be someone’s new BFF - there are no positions open at this time.

I have experienced “The Freeze” on numerous occasions but continue to put myself out there, albeit with a parka and lowered expectations.  I was pleasantly surprised when I reached out to my boyfriend’s friend Nathania and didn’t receive frost bite.  Nathania is a native Washingtonian and has lived in Seattle for years.  We have hung out on several occasions and she recently invited us to her birthday party.  Nathania is sensitive to gluten so I knew I would have to get a little creative with my b-day treats.  

I flipped through my epicurious recipe box and found a simple recipe for peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies.  I made this recipe several years ago for someone who was gluten intolerant and she loved them.  She was also shocked when I told her there wasn’t an ounce of flour in them.  I find that most PB cookie recipes that contain flour to have a very pronounced PB flavor; however, these cookies have a deeper, nuttier PB flavor.  Perhaps it has something to do with using creamy vs. chunky PB (the recipe calls for chunky but I only had creamy).  Perhaps it’s the way that Skippy tastes when it’s baked.  Regardless, the cookies held their shape and served as a wonderful b-day present.

Flourless Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

- Adapted slightly from epicurious.com

Yields ~18-24 cookies (1 1/2-2 dozen)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (about 6 ounces)

Preparation:

  1. Arrange racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F.
  2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (or Sil-pat).
  3. Mix first 5 ingredients in medium bowl.
  4. Mix in chocolate chips.image
  5. Use an ice cream scoop to form generous 1 tablespoon balls of dough for each cookie.
  6. Arrange on baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart.
  7. Bake cookies until puffed, golden on bottom and still soft to touch in center, about 12 minutes.
  8. Cool on sheets 3-5 minutes.
  9. Transfer to racks; cool completely.image

DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.  Cookies can be stacked directly on top of each other.

In order to keep my inner fat kid from becoming my outer fat adult, I have to exercise.  I tried for a really long time to do the running thing but found that I just felt like a fat hamster running on a wheel going absolutely no where.  Yoga, pilates, and barre classes worked for a while but I’m still trying to find a good studio in Seattle to meet my needs and schedule.  One thing that I have found that I can stick to and that works with my schedule is dancing.  

While I took community ed dance classes as a child (I lived in rural MN so my options were limited), I never considered myself to be much of a dancer.  Sure, I went clubbing a lot during college and in my early 20s, but that started to peter out when the dirty South rap started its ascent (paddy-cake paddy-cake microwave…really?!  I know it’s hard out there for a pimp, but that sh*t is broke.) and my tolerance for rowdy drunk people starts its descent.

I discovered a dance studio in Seattle that teaches a unique form of “modern/interpretive” dance.  Many women in the class have remarked that the classes are amazing and have provided the release they needed after a stressful or hard day.  I never understood that feeling until recently when I had an amazing and emotionally cathartic dance. 

Per the usual, my instructor Danae asked us if we had a song request.  I had recently watched the movie “Drive” and was super in love with the song “Nightcall” so requested it.  Danae didn’t have the song on her phone, but promptly went to the iTunes store and bought it.  I can’t explain what happened or how I did it, but I think the combination of the music and the ability to actually get out of my head, let go, and not judge myself for not being perfect had a little something to do with it.

I wanted to thank Danae for not only being an amazing teacher, but also for spending money on a song she had never heard of and may not have even liked.  I asked her what her favorite kind of cookie was.  She immediately said molasses cookies because they reminded her of her grandmother.  

I have a tried and true ginger and molasses cookie recipe I have used for Bakefest for several years now, but I figured I would take this opportunity to try a new recipe.  I followed the recipe as written except that I substituted butter for shortening (recipe below includes my modification).  The cookies are the quintessential fall dessert - spicy, chewy, and warm.  They even got the thumbs-up from Danae.

image

Chewy Ginger Cookies

- Adapted from epicurious.com

Yields ~36 cookies (3 dozen)

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup blackstrap (robust) molasses
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 cup granulated sugar 

Preparation:

  1. Arrange racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F.
  2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (or Sil-pat).
  3. Whisk flour, ground ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl.
  4. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat brown sugar and butter in a large bowl, scraping down sides halfway through beating, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  5. Reduce mixer speed to low. Add egg, molasses, grated ginger, and vanilla; beat just to blend.
  6. Add flour mixture; beat on low speed just to blend.
  7. Mix in crystallized ginger (dough will be very soft and sticky).
  8. Place raw sugar in a shallow bowl.
  9. Partition the dough using an ice cream scooper (~1 1/2 tablespoons).  Roll the dough into a ball.
  10. Drop balls of dough into bowl with raw sugar; turn to coat well.
  11. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Space balls 1 1/2” apart.
  12. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are firm and centers appear cracked, 10–12 minutes.
  13. Transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool.
  14. Repeat with remaining dough and sugar, using cooled baking sheets.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.  Cookies can be stacked directly on top of each other.