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.
-From Sara Foster on epicurious.com
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.
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!
Yield: ~48 cookies (4 dozen)
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.
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
Yield: ~36 cookies (3 dozen)
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.
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???
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.
-From Gale Gand on foodnetwork.com
Yield: ~36 cookies (3 dozen)
For the topping:
For the cookie dough:
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.
-Adapted slightly from epicurious.com
Yields: ~5 bowls of soup
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.
- Adapted slightly from epicurious.com
Yields ~18-24 cookies (1 1/2-2 dozen)
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.
- Adapted from epicurious.com
Yields ~36 cookies (3 dozen)
I had always heard these (sub)urban legends about the bounty of tomatoes. That massive amounts of these red, juicy orbs would spring forth from the earth to give rise to sandwiches, sauces, and soups. I had never experienced this for myself, mainly because I never had a garden and didn’t know anyone who did. Well, all of that changed late this summer.
My former co-worker Alicia Y. and her husband had planted a large garden and their tomatoes were out of control. They had eaten and canned as much as they could, but were quickly losing ground and the tomatoes were beginning to go bad. I volunteered to take some of these tomatoes off their hands, thinking I could make a batch of tomato sauce with them.
Well, 6 pounds of tomatoes, 3 batches of tomato sauce and 2 batches of tomato soup, and a dinner of fried-green tomatoes later, I had finally processed all of the tomatoes they had so generous given to me. I’ll discuss the tomato soup and fried-green tomatoes later, but now I would like to focus on the tomato sauce.
Epicurious.com is one of my all-time favorite recipe sites. I know that the recipes are reliable and almost guaranteed to yield a tasty product. I generally shy away from the member recipes because they don’t go through the same rigor as the “professional” recipes, but the title “Simple Tomato Sauce” piqued my interest. Up until this point, I don’t think I had ever made a tomato sauce from scratch. Part of the reason for that is I was always under the impression that it would take a lot of time and patience - 2 things I have in very sparing quantities. I was shocked to find out that this recipe required minimal amounts of chopping, 4 ingredients, and less than an hour. I was further intrigued by the fact that the recipe was from Marcella Hazan.
Marcella Hazan recently passed away, but is regarded as one of the grand dames of Italian cooking and is credited with introducing true Italian cuisine to the US. The interviews and tributes I have read about Mrs. Hazan portray her as a feisty woman who was uncompromising in her dedication to simplicity and authenticity. I <3 this woman’s style! Not only has she written several cook books, she use to run her own cooking school. I was fortunate enough to have taken a class with her son Giuliano at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, NC. I was impressed by how simple and tasty their recipes were so I decided to give the tomato sauce a try.
I don’t memorize recipes for kicks, but this recipe was so simple that it just happened. The only problem is that the original recipe wasn’t hers (FAIL). As I found out when I was writing this blog post, the original recipe has a very different butter to tomato ratio. Well, there goes the idea of a touching tribute topped off with a classic recipe… Regardless, here is a recipe for Marcella’s sauce followed by my bastardized version. I haven’t made the real version, but the bastardized version is pretty tasty.
Either sauce can be tossed with pasta (~1/2 pound of dry pasta, depending on pasta shape and how saucy you like your pasta), topped with 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano if you’re feeling fancy) and some fresh cracked black pepper.
Marcella Hazan’s Simple Tomato Sauce (aka: My Mother’s Butter, Tomato, and Onion Sauce)
- From Hazan Family Favorites: Beloved Italian Recipes from the Hazan Family
1. If using fresh tomatoes, peel them. Coarsely chop the fresh or canned tomatoes. Trim both ends of the onion; peel it and cut it in half lengthwise.
2. Put the tomatoes, onion, butter, and salt in a 4- to 5-quart saucepan over medium heat. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, lower the heat to a slow but steady simmer. Cook, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes, until the tomatoes are no longer watery and the sauce has reduced, about 45 minutes, depending on the size and shape of the pot. The sauce is done when the butter has separated from the tomatoes and there is no remaining liquid.
Kinda, Sorta Marcella Hazan’s Simple Tomato Sauce
- Accidentally adapted from Hazan Family Favorites: Beloved Italian Recipes from the Hazan Family
Yields ~ 1 qt. of sauce
1. Coarsely chop the fresh tomatoes. Trim both ends of the onion; peel it and cut each half into quarters.
2. Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a 4- to 5-quart saucepan. Add onions, tomatoes, and salt stir to coat with butter. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, lower the heat to a slow but steady simmer. Cook, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes, until the tomatoes are no longer watery and the sauce has reduced, about 45 minutes, depending on the size and shape of the pot. The sauce is done when the butter has separated from the tomatoes and there is no remaining liquid.
Note: To freeze: cool sauce completely and then transfer to a storage container (my go-to freezer container of choice is quarter-sized yogurt containers). Make sure you leave some head space as the sauce will expand upon freezing. Defrost in the fridge overnight (sauce will have the consistency of a very icy slushie, but totally usable if you are cooking it).