I am currently doing a clean-eating detox cleanse thing with my man-friend. I’ll discuss details of the cleanse in a later post, but what is important to note is the cleanse has a very strict meal plan. Minimal carbs, no red meat, no processed sugar, and very little fat. I haven’t had any problems sticking to the cleanse, but that doesn’t mean I don’t lust after foods that were common in my diet pre-cleanse.
My man-friend and I were discussing the things we miss eating while on the cleanse. He missed carbs because they filled him up (he’s been perpetually hungry during this entire thing) and I missed baked goods. Mmmm….baked goods…
One cookie I discovered when I moved to Seattle is Dahlia Bakery’s Nora Ephron peanut butter sandwich cookie. Prior to Bakefest 2012, I was rooting around for a better peanut butter cookie recipe and stumbled across this gem. For those who don’t know, Nora Ephron was a screenwriter (she passed away in 2012), director, and author, probably best known for movies such as “When Harry Meet Sally”, “Sleepless in Seattle”, and “Julie and Julia”. The story goes that Nora was in town and stopped by Dahlia Bakery and picked up a few of these cookies. She loved the cookies so much that Tom Douglas, owner of Dahlia Bakery and many other restaurants in Seattle, decided to name the cookie after her.
I think most peanut butter cookies are crap. Often times the peanut butter flavor is weak and/or the cookies are rock-hard. The use of 2 different peanut butters (regular an all-natural) and a peanut butter-ladened filling ensure that peanut butter flavor is the boss in this cookie. The low flour: butter ratio also help to keep the dough nice and moist. I admit that sandwich cookies are a pain (honestly, like twice the amount of work for half the number of cookies), but this one is totally worth it. I have received rave reviews both years from Bakefest recipients. I even intentionally mess up a few on purpose just so I can nibble on the rejects.
Yield: 18-20 sandwich cookies
peanut butter filling
peanut butter cookies
Note: The original recipe suggests setting the baking sheet inside another baking sheet to make a double pan when baking to prevent the bottoms from burning. I have tried both single and double sheets and I think they produce the same results so I only use the single.
Punctuality has never been my strong suit. There are just certain things I don’t factor into my arrival time, like finding pants that don’t make me feel fat and the difference in location between 50th street and NE 50th street in Seattle. I am beginning to realize that keeping current with posting to a blog is the same. I don’t factor things into my posting time like locating pictures and writing the actual post. Oops.
No matter - I am here with you now, dear reader. I had this grand master plan to blog about Thanksgiving in November and then Bakefest 2013 in December and maybe even into January, if I was slacking. Well, it’s May and I think roasting turkeys are a bit passe at the moment and I haven’t posted anything about Bakefest (with the exception of new recipes that I tried and loved so much I decided to include them in Bakefest - Chocolate chip cookies with sea salt, I’m drooling over you!). I figured these cookies can be enjoyed any time of the year, not just during the holidays so sit back and enjoy the sugar, butter, and story fun!
Shazia and I went to middle and high school together. We were in all the advanced classes together, but I always thought she was too cool to even know who I was. I was a fat, nerdy chick with braces and glasses who read the dictionary (not actually true - I was just looking up the word antebellum - but Shaz loves to reference this whenever we talk about high school) and she was a tall, sleek beautiful gazelle who hung out with all the cool, popular choir and drama kids. I’m not sure of the exact moment we became friends, but I think it was some time during junior year, shortly after I hosted a study group at my house for an AP European history exam. Somehow Shaz got wind of the study group and showed up on my doorstep, text book and highlighters in hand.
Shaz’s parents were pretty strict so she wasn’t able to go out much so I spent a lot of weekends hanging out at her house after working at my family’s restaurant. There was ALWAYS food in Shaz’s house - absolutely amazing Indian and Pakistani food. It seemed like they were always having dinner parties and would always have a ton of leftovers. There would always be sweets in the house, too. One sweet I fell in love with were her mom’s Moon Cookie, which - in my humble opinion - is the embodiment of sugar cookie perfection. The cookies are slightly crispy at the very edges, but have a nice cakey-chewiness to them in the middle. They are sweet enough to satisfy a craving, but not sweet enough to give you diabetes.
Moon Cookies got their name from the crescent-shaped cookie cutter Shaz’s grandmother would use when making these cookies. Shaz’s mom Aisha, continued the tradition by using the same cookie cutter to make her cookies. I never got around to purchasing a moon-shaped cookie cutter so I end up using what I have, which are stars and hearts. These cookies are perfect for the holidays because you can cut them in any shape you like and decorate them however you like. I find that coloring the frosting with gel paste (I’m currently lovin’ the AmeriColor soft gel past food coloring) is far superior to liquid food coloring because the colors are much more vibrant and true.
A special thanks goes to Nathania for coming over on a random Sunday afternoon and decorating an insane number of cookies for me!!! In fact, this beautiful design is courtesy of her artistic talent!
-From Aisha Bashir
Yield: ~30-36 cookies (3 dozen)
Note: Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week. Make sure the frosting is COMPLETELY dry before stacking the cookies on top of each other.
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
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.
-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 sifting the flour and cornstarch mixture about 5 times prior to using it. I was unaware of the sifting 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.