January 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Are you bunkering down for the #Snowpocalypse like I am? The world outside my windows is white, but so far it seems we have overreacted. The only signs that the world is ending were the lines stretching down the aisles at the supermarket yesterday, customers yelling when it looked like you might not take your place at the end of the line, and the shelves barren of bread, vegetables (I’m not sure about you, but I might not stock my house with kale if the world were really ending…), and milk.

But as it is, I don’t have to go in to work again until Wednesday afternoon Thursday, so what better to do than make a bunch of cookies! I love a good crackle on top of a chewy ginger molasses cookie and turbinado sugar does just the trick. I also love the chewy strands of coconut and flakes of oatmeal in these “Chunky Lola” cookies from the Flour cookbook, juxtaposed by blobs of melted bittersweet chocolate. Can you tell, when it comes to cookies, I am firmly in the chewy camp.

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I do hope these cookies will make up for the things I didn’t post…ahem the stickiest sticky pecan buns ever. But if you have something to say, drop a line in the comments section. Oh, and be sure to mention your favorite pizzeria in Rome. I’m so glad spring break trips extend to post-graduation life!

Cornmeal shortbread for windy sea days

April 7, 2011 § 3 Comments

After a couple of months of floating around, sort of doing one thing, starting another, the rest of my life until the start of school in September is all but laid in stone. Plane tickets are bought, apartment secured, various bureaucratic forms being sent in. It’s a little surreal — at the start, the idea of having a whole year seems so long and then I got swept up and suddenly I have it all planned out down to the last day. It seems I have a thousand documents open at once: draft articles for my new column, writing samples for journalism seminars, and finally, I’m pouring through past journals, filled with fiction stories and trying to edit, but failing that because well, they’re not really fiction and I’m not really ready to see an editor.

My spring is filled with half-thoughts, ideas that will be realized simply because I have deadlines that need to be met. Meanwhile San Francisco seems to be similarly indecisive about what time it is. The blazing hot afternoon softly melts into evening at the top of my hill. Dogs that I often trip over dart around the dusty paths and I pass the same people over and over again as I complete the sixth mile repeat. There’s something eerie at the shorelines blurring by as I run, at any second in time a different shore of the bay appears across the crosshatch of streets. As the sky darkens, a couple of lights begin to appear among the houses, outlining the city in gold. And then the wind comes out in full force, bringing runners to a standstill, burning the skin with frosty gusts.

The end-all-be-all in non-poetic language is that I am leaving for Prague in about two months, right after the Taste of Mendocino Public Tasting (follow @tasteofmendo), which I strongly urge you all to attend here in San Francisco. It’ll be packed full of wine tastings, food vendors and haystacks and promises to be a good time. Kind of like a weekend away in the country, just a bit more condensed and uhhh…it doesn’t require you to actually leave for the country.

These cornmeal shortbread are a bit of a rustic take on shortbread. I would recommend using superfine cornmeal, though the recipe doesn’t specify. We loved the grainy texture of the cornmeal but could have done without the couple hard crunches. Finally, the recipe says to pipe the dough into spirals using a pastry tip. My dough came to a thick, normal shortbread consistency, that absolutely would not have supported being piped through anything. So, I used the roll and cut method, which worked just fine.

Cornmeal Cookies
Adapted from Saveur

2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
21 tbsp. (1/2 lb. plus 5 tbsp.) butter, softened
2 egg yolks

Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add butter and egg yolks. Use your fingers to work the butter and egg yolks into the dry mixture until you get an even crumb. Turn the crumbly dough out onto a clean counter and knead into a soft, smooth ball. Place the ball of dough back into the bowl and cover with a clean damp cloth for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 300°. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Lightly dust a clean work surface. Roll out to dough to a 1/4-inch thick. Cut out cookies using shapes of your choice and place on parchment paper. Bake cookies for 25-30 minutes or until lightly golden browned. Transfer cookies to racks to cool.

Fresh pow, cookies and whole grains

March 7, 2011 § 1 Comment

Commitment is a funny thing, and one most of my friends know I’m notoriously bad at. Something about not having options at all times scares me, and then finally I get my heart set on something and decide I need a concrete, definite plan of execution. For instance, I’ve dabbled in planning for the Vancouver, Oakland and Whidbey Island marathons over the past two months. I’ve accelerated and decreased training accordingly (albeit, probably more like arbitrarily). And then this weekend I decided it was time to buckle down and actually commit, I looked up the Western Pacific Marathon — the plus being that I wouldn’t have to fly to it — and signed myself up. And then, just to blow your socks off on my commitment levels today, I also signed myself up for a new CSA box, which shall remain unnamed for now, and committed myself to at least 4-weeks of farm fresh produce delivery. I know 4-weeks may not seem like a very large commitment to some, but hey, it’s huge for me. Since I can hardly seem to stay in one city for more than a couple of months, it seems silly to commit to a year’s worth of fresh produce anyway.

Sometimes my indecisiveness pays off in the form of several baked goods in the place of one. We went up to Lake Tahoe this weekend for skiing. I spent most of my childhood on the hill racing through off-course gullies, dodging trees and occasionally getting stuck in the fresh powder. I remember protesting the suggestion of joining the ski team because why in the world would I want to spend all my time on the slalom. I spent the rest of my time eating candy bars and Oreo brownies and drinking hot chocolate in the lodge with my instructors or my parents. Real food was a big time no-no during my time on the slopes. Actually, I think it was a big no-no for most of my childhood come to think of it, as my pre swim practice snack was often two Snickers bars in the locker room. Get that image of a chubby pre-teen out of your head right now, my metabolism was like a race horse back then. But despite the fact that most of my life skiing has revolved around junk food, when I think ski hill now, I think homely and hearty whole grains.

I made this loaf cake with graham and whole-wheat flour, 3 yams and 2 tablespoons of butter. It is incredibly moist, verging on being a bit too moist, and good toasted with a bit of peanut butter even four days after it was made. I feel healthy eating it even with the sprinkling of chocolate chips on top. Sure, it’s not for everyone (my little brother stood around in the kitchen making faces while I was making it) but it’s one of those recipes that is really guilt free. The cookies are whole-wheat chocolate chip and can be found here. The last and first time I made them, I quickly swore they were my new favorite cookies. This time, they were perfect the night of and hardened after a day, losing the chewiness I usually look for in chocolate chip cookies. Will have to work on that because I love the deep nuttiness the whole-wheat flour brings.

Yam Loaf Cake
Adapted from Kim Boyce’s Sweet Potato Muffins

3 small yams
1 cup graham flour
1/2 whole wheat flour
1/2 white flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt
pecans, semisweet chocolate chips and tablespoon extra brown sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roast yams for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until they’re tender when pierced with a fork. The bottoms should be dark and the juices should be beginning to caramelize. Let cool and peel. Puree in a blender with the buttermilk and yogurt. Add the egg and melted butter and mix thoroughly.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Fold together the wet and dry mixtures, being careful not to over mix.

Butter and flour a 9-inch loaf pan. Scoop in batter and top with a sprinkling of brown sugar, pecans and semisweet chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour

Creamy Dreamy Crunchy February

February 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’m not one of those bakers that will make ten batches of things before getting them right. That’s not a statement of perfection; rather, that means I’m not going to whip up batch after batch of macaron batter to finally, haphazardly, get the highly-sought after feet on one tray of cookies. I wish I was that dedicated. Realistically, I’ll likely make two batches before giving up. I read descriptions of that process like this and can only be in awe of the dedication and say that this is probably why I am not pursuing a career as a pastry chef.

I’m coming up on a year since my whole life at college seemed like it was falling apart, and while I’m not sure I can realistically say that I am much closer to figuring out what I want to be in life, I can say that I am in a much better place than I was last spring. Sometimes I wonder if I was meant to be sitting on the kitchen floor at home watching cookies fail this spring, whether I was meant to be planning a trip to an Italian farm this summer, instead of frantically applying to the next prestigious internship, what I would be doing this year if things had worked out a little differently. But sometimes I think about how great it was to have an opportunity to take a step back and evaluate all the things in my life that were making me unhappy at the moment, even if that opportunity came with realizing that I was more unhappy than I had ever cared to admit.

Sure there are certain aspects of school that I really miss. I was sitting in a UCLA dining hall the other morning, for that Sunday morning brunch when everyone is in a weird daze and it’s likely that a quick and thorough scan of the room is necessary before choosing a table because of some awkward encounter the night before, and realized that I really missed recapping the night before over dining hall bagels. I missed walking around in Nike shorts 24/7, compulsive trips to the local froyo shop, the little things. And then there are the huge things that I don’t miss at all.

During that time last year, I spent a lot of time with my hallmates in the kitchen down the hall from our rooms, making cakes and cookies and the insane salted caramel bacon brownies, which I think are still the item of my blog with the most search-engine hits. Now as I’m setting up the lighting in the dining room, it’s easy to forget that this started out as me baking out of a dorm kitchen. It’s kind of comforting to have your progress over the past year very well documented; it makes you feel like you’ve already grown up even when you’re freaking out about having to be a grown up.

Speaking to growing up, a bunch of childhood seems to come up in the form of dishes as I’m rooting through items to use in photoshoots. Like these shot glasses I picked up on an obscure beach in British Columbia before I knew what a shot glass was. I made vanilla panna cotta when I got home from LA this evening, pictured alongside cranberry-cocao nib florentines. And yes, I made the florentines twice but not more than that.

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies. I actually used a recipe from Joy of Cooking for the florentines, as I thought an almond version looked more traditional that one using rolled oats.

Panna Cotta

1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
1 tablespoon (one packet) (15 ml) (7 gm) (¼ oz) unflavored powdered gelatin
3 cups (720 ml) whipping cream (30+% butterfat)
1/3 cup (80 ml) honey
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) granulated sugar
pinch of salt

Pour the milk into a bowl or pot and sprinkle gelatin evenly and thinly over the milk (make sure the bowl/pot is cold by placing the bowl/pot in the refrigerator for a few minutes before you start making the Panna Cotta). Let stand for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin.
Pour the milk into the saucepan/pot and place over medium heat on the stove. Heat this mixture until it is hot, but not boiling, about five minutes. (I whisk it a few times at this stage).
Next, add the cream, honey, sugar, and pinch of salt. Making sure the mixture doesn’t boil, continue to heat and stir occasionally until the sugar and honey have dissolved 5-7 minutes.
Remove from heat, allow it to sit for a few minutes to cool slightly. Then pour into the glass or ramekin.
Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Add garnishes and serve.

Lime-black pepper cookies

February 19, 2011 § 4 Comments

I think I was pretty close to crying yesterday walking home from the metro station with the rain pouring down, my hood soaked through and my iPod carefully hidden in a waterproof pocket, because I’ve lost one or two already to sudden rainstorms. Also, I seem to have gotten in the habit of disembarking streetcars in relative franticness after a few too many uncomfortable encounters with creepy people sitting too close to me. I mean, whatever happened to polite people, and spring…spring weather please?

I made these cookies that were perfect for spring and now spring has gone into hiding. I know, I know, I’m not going to get very much sympathy from most people. By the way, have you seen this yet? Sure, we’re probably not making any friends talking like that but you admit we’re cute right? Right?

But so anyway, my point was that it’s pouring and I’m about to head out to the gym, kicking and screaming, and I think I’ll bike on the top floor, so that I can look out over the rooftop, outdoor swimming pool and remember all those late nights I spent at swim practice in the morning rain, wishing the lightning would just come out already so that I could get out of the water, but it never coming and practice finally ending and having to start my homework on the long drive back into the city. Well I guess that makes my current situation sound a little better anyway.

Okay seriously, the new journal starts now, I literally cannot manage to stay on one topic for more than a couple of sentences. Let’s get to the point:

I’ve been experimenting with black pepper as part of an article that I was writing, which you can find here. This was my favorite recipe of the ones I tried — lime-black pepper cookies. I know it sounds a bit strange, but give it a shot. You barely taste the black pepper itself at all but what it does is enhance the lime flavor so that what you get is a zingy, zesty pop. All in a little sugar cookie. If spring had a taste, this would be it.

You can find the recipe for black pepper lime cookies on the Chicago Tribune Website here. I did add a brush of a simple glaze made of freshly-squeezed lime juice and confectioner’s sugar on top, along with a couple of twists of the pepper grinder.

Also, I have recently revamped my Twitter account and to follow all my inane thoughts, all you have to do is click here.

Catching up over a ginger cookie sandwich

February 15, 2011 § 2 Comments

I haven’t been in the kitchen much thèse days. There are a thousand reasons why but the main one is that I feel like I am doing a thousand things at once—going to work, training for a marathon, planning vacations, writing in several different publications (like this) and constantly switching the language on my computer while becoming increasingly frustrated that my English keyboard doesn’t have accent buttons and my French spell-check corrects my English words and automatically adds accents to words like “these.” I made whole-wheat almond scones because their picture looked almost exactly like the almond scones I used to love (and still crave) from Martha’s Coffee, and then decided I couldn’t eat any, and then proceeded to completely forget about them until my dad had eaten them all for breakfast. So when I made these ginger sandwich cookies, I stashed a couple of them in the fridge for their photoshoot, which I finally got around to after a week of chocolate tastings, cook showcases, bakery anniversary parties and street food festivals.

To say I have two celeb-chef crushes would be a bit misleading as a.) They are both pastry chefs and b.) I have never seen them on TV yelling at a contestant. One of them is Emily Luchetti, former pastry-chef at Stars and current pastry-chef at Farallon — which has a wonderful $6 appetizers before 7 p.m. bar deal by the way — who made a dinosaur themed birthday cake for me once, complete with dinosaur sugar cookies walking across the top. Queue childlike adoration here. The other is William Werner, the man behind the Tell Tale Preserve Company, who will be opening a shop on Maiden Lane here in San Francisco later this spring. Unfortunately, I brought home a mystery jar from him the other day at work and opened it late Saturday night…hmm incredibly sweet vanilla spread?

My mom and I hung around the kitchen counter for a bit, poking spoons into the glass jar and trying to figure out what to do with it. The sweetness definitely needed something with bite to counteract it. So after a bit of rummaging around in the Stars Desserts cookbook, we came up with gingersnaps. Therein came the second perplexing situation: figuring that the spread had more than enough sugar, I decided the cookies should be just barely sweet. I halved the sugar in the recipe — white and brown — and added a generous amount of chopped, uncrystallized ginger, and made teaspoon-sized gingersnaps that were…not at all lacking in sweetness. I couldn’t even imagine twice the amount of sugar going in them. Emily, what gives?

Anyway, presenting spicy gingersnap sandwiches with vanilla custard. Please forgive the free-flowing, information-spewing text. I think it’s time for me to start keeping a journal again, it seems I am incapable of reflective thought without one.

Ginger Cookies
Adapted from Classic Stars Desserts

2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 firmly packed brown sugar
8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/3 cup dark molasses
generous amount of chopped ginger (use fresh if you have it)

In a bowl, stir together the flour, spices, baking soda, salt and pepper. Set aside. Combine the sugars and butter in a mixing bowl and cream until smooth. Add the egg and beat until mixed then beat in the molasses. Add the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Use a teaspoon to shape each cookie and flatten the balls slightly on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes for chewier cookies and 14 minutes for crisp cookies. Let cool, then sandwich together with your favorite filling (if you like).

Gingerbread bells and snowstorms

December 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve been sitting on a lot of trains lately, and planes, yet have thankfully avoided the snowstorm that has taken over several European cities and made travel virtually impossible. I’ve been to Christmas markets across the continent, drinking various traditional forms of mulled wine and tasting Christmas cookies of all varieties. I feel traveled and Christmased out before, really, the festivities have even started. It’s hard to reconcile the constant moving around with sitting on the floor next to the Christmas tree, which seems to shrink in size ever year, rattling the presents with my brother, trying to figure out what they contain in the days before Christmas morning. Instead, I am trodding through the snow and the slush and the fog in Austria and Hungary. The snowstorm has descended like a blanket across the cities, the skies are a deep white and the tops of historical landmarks — kings’ palaces, tombs — seem to disappear under the mist.

While I remember going out running in a sports bra and shorts at home on Christmas day last year, here I have been wearing two scarves and a fur hat since the beginning of November. I’ll be wishing in the New Year at whatever restaurant table we can get a seat at in the hustle and bustle of the Venetian holidays. While I am immersed in the pastry tasting and Picasso-viewing, I am also eagerly counting down the days until I get home; my blogging will be scarce until mid-January but rest assured I am drinking plenty of espressos and writing non-stop in these fabulous leather-bound journals I purchased from a very pleasant Italian woman who has been making books for 15 years. I wish you all very happy holidays and leave you with my favorite gingerbread cookies, which I remember pulling out of the oven in Paris just as the 4-year old twin boys living above me started a snowball fight with their dad in the courtyard outside my window. When I went out, the dad began pelting me with snowballs and before I knew it I was fully engaged in a battle of minuscule and huge snowballs (depending greatly on who was doing the throwing) punctured with squeals of “Ah, je suis touché!” It’s these simple joyful moments that remind us how special the holidays are for us all.

Gingerbread cookies
Adapted from The Christmas Cookie Book by Lou Seibert Pappas

½ cup butter (113 g)
½ cup sugar (115 g)
1 egg
½ cup molasses (120 ml)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
3 cups flour (330 g)
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Cream together the butter and sugar until light. Mix in the molasses, cider vinegar and egg, beating until smooth. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon. Add the dry mixture to the flour mixture and mix until blended. Scrape the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap and chill for two hours until firm.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough until 1/8-inch thick. Cut out cookies using decorative cookie cutters and place cut cookies on trays. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned on the edges. Let cool completely on racks.
Ice cookies using a pastry bag and tip. Icing can be made by simply combining food coloring, water and powdered sugar until you reach the desired color and consistency.

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