Add a little spice

November 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

Since enrolling in several design classes this fall, my cooking has taken a haphazard turn. Meals thrown together when I get home from class at 11 p.m. or pieced together in the office kitchen that’s large enough to just turn around, twice—provided there’s no one else trying to cook too.

So the huge kitchen we moved into in September hasn’t gotten as much use as I had imagined. Still, there have been Sunday pizza afternoons, numerous apple crisps, a birthday cake (that I didn’t even make!), and tons of large-portioned, casserole pan dishes meant to last the entire week. I had a chance to make the Bon Appétit October cover cake a few weeks ago and it had such an intriguing flavor profile—pomegranate molasses, cardamon, orange zest, caramel soaked pears—that I wondered why I don’t make recipes from magazines more often.

This fall, I have been relishing time outside, going out of my way to crunch in the leaves and taking that few extra minutes to just breathe in real, fresh air. When you spend most days and nights staring at grids and adjusting alignments to a minuscule point, you need it.

But as exhausting as it’s been, the past two months have been incredibly rewarding. I get to play with patterns and fonts and get real feedback from fellow designers. I’ve met people who are just as particular about color palettes and lines as I am, and that sense of community in itself has made these classes worthwhile.

So no recipe today, but please do make Bon Appétit‘s spiced pear upside-down cake! It’s sweet, but not very sweet, unexpected, and you get the added satisfaction of nailing the cake flip. That is, if you do nail it.

Bourbon Butterscotch Ramekins

October 23, 2013 § Leave a comment


Outside my window at the office is a row of orange-hued trees separating the parking lot from the train tracks. On the other side of the tracks is a smaller, vibrant red tree. If you just prevent yourself from looking below, you can almost cut out any signs of civilization from your line of vision, and before you stretches a field of color. I often get to the office before anyone else has arrived and have a few moments to myself, a way of steadying myself for the day ahead, in the silent, dark office, before anyone turns on the lights, the room lit only by the morning light outside the windows. By 4 p.m. my head is pounding from staring at my computer screen for hours, and on my way home, my thoughts are preoccupied in the internal debate “run or nap.” Today, we’re finally starting to feel the real depth of fall, not the light, crispness of early fall, but that time when the leaves crunch underfoot instead of lighting up the horizon, and you can feel—just short of seeing—your breath in the air. Winter is coming.

I’m on my third pan of apple crisp this season. I picked up the last week of our CSA this week, loaded down with butternut squash, stalks of brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes—there was even a bit of popcorn thrown in. I’m finding it hard to resist the urge to go into hibernation mode, and it’s not even the end of October. It’s getting harder and harder to get out of the house for a run, though I did have a great 9-miler last weekend with the club team that seemed to fly by because I was out, not only meeting new people, but actually feeling like I was connecting with people.

With hibernation comes wintery flavors, sweeter, heavier, flavors that allow me to burrow down in comfort. My mind is coming back to a recipe I tried from Bon Appétit. Bourbon. Butterscotch. Cream. What couldn’t there be to love in that? In the end I had mixed feelings about the recipe. The quick turn in the blender, which was supposed to give the pudding its smooth texture, resulted in a bubbly top. I found myself wanting a lighter texture, which I associate, for reasons that may not be based in fact, with custards over puddings. So I burned a brulée on top and that made everything slightly better. Still, I expect I’ll come back to these flavors soon…perhaps in the form of a cake? Perhaps as a tart filling? That seems to recall Momofuko’s crack pie, and an article I read awhile ago, “No, Your Favorite Food is Not Like Crack,” which rang much truer with me than I initially thought it would.

Pistachio Pound Cake

November 6, 2012 § 1 Comment

As if overnight, it’s winter. In the mornings, the lawn outside my entryway is frozen, and crackles with every step. Rumor has it there’s a Nor’easter on the way. Wool socks, my down jacket and the knit hat Granny sent just last week have suddenly become mainstays in my wardrobe. Every morning, I tumble out of bed, across the mess of clothes on the floor, and hop around on the tiled bathroom floor, waiting the ten minutes for the water to warm up to an acceptably hot temperature. Running is no longer a determination to stay in shape, but a battle to emerge from the comforter every morning. I slept for eleven hours last night, and was surprised when my lab partners wanted to talk about our lab report at midnight, don’t they know that’s the middle of the night?

That said, there’s two things I enjoy about the early days of winter and that’s the clothes and the food. I want to crawl onto thick cashmere sweaters with blowsy sleeves. I want butternut squash galettes with buttery crust for dinner and warm open-faced apple tarts for dessert. I want the first snowfall, and then all the miserable days of dirty slush afterwards to disappear into a cloud of gingerbread cookies by the fireplace. Even with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’m already dreaming in reds and greens, fir trees and ski hills. The pistachios in this poundcake are perfectly festive for my current mindset. Granted the two sticks of butter in it are also perfectly excessive and demonstrative of winter baking, but hey we’re only concerned about the aesthetics of winter here — the picture perfect image of poundcake for breakfast looking out at the pure white flurries of snow falling outside.

New York, Sandy, and Bouncing Back

November 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

My vacation week was cut short by Hurricane Sandy, and my birthday was spent cooped up in bed, watching the wind and rain rage outside, with a warning from Major Bloomberg to stay inside. But I’m counting myself lucky that I’m safe and dry, and didn’t lose anything in the storm except for a couple of fun times. Watching the news is a sobering reminder that while I was complaining that all of the restaurants were closed for lunch, some people were out there actually losing everything. So I’ve been thinking about the happy moments of this week and they’re actually more plentiful than I thought.

Running down Prospect Street, through the autumn leaves and seeing the neighbors come out to talk to each other in the middle of the street.

These crunchy squares of burnt caramel toffee from Poco Dolce in San Francisco that my dad sent me in the mail.

Having The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook in my hands for the very first time, I can’t wait to spend hours with it.

A lovely day-before-birthday dinner at Prune, which we visited for the second time, and chatting with our table neighbors — a French family confused when their son got asked for I.D. for a glass of wine.

A warm welcome — and couch — from old friends and new in New York City, a plate of marshmallow topped sweet potatoes, and a couple more shots of whiskey than I ever expected at a dinner party.

Corduroys and brown combat boots, perfect for November.

A morning yoga session that makes me wonder why yoga ever made it out of my daily routine.

Watching a young boy, who could not have been more than eight-years-old, sip chocolate milk while reading The New York Times, across from me at Small World Coffee.

Sending in my ballot, just in time.

Waking up on my birthday to a lemon tart, a handmade hat from Granny, and a blue Tiffany’s box from my little brother.

Taylor Swift’s new album Red, which surprisingly and embarrassingly, is so spot on I can’t stop listening.

A little secret that makes me smile when I walk around campus, and keeps me warm, like my new rusty red cashmere sweater.

Ginger Molasses Cookies

October 18, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’ve spent the morning in one of the really comfy leather couches of my eating club, drinking coffee and perusing Miss Moss, a fashion/design/photography blog I recently discovered through a girl sitting next to me in seminar. I’ve spent the afternoon pouring through a thrift shop, looking for Audrey Hepburn long white gloves and pearl necklaces, but coming up with an ugly Christmas sweater with jingling reindeer instead. And the evening again, back to browsing through pages of Miss Moss, shopping for scarves online (I’m going at a rate of one new scarf a week, which is justified, I believe, because I wear them every, single day), and drinking Baileys out of an orange Solo cup, courtesy of my British friend reminiscing about Oxford Wednesday traditions of pancakes and Baileys.

Even with all of the homecoming events coming up this weekend, the threat of midterms next week, and countless other activities I feel like I should be excited about, I’m eagerly looking forward to getting off campus for a bit at the end of the month. I’d rather be buying play tickets and making dinner reservations for New York, or day dreaming about the quaintness of Portland, Maine, or just sitting around in Boston with my best friend, so I can stop calling her in panic mode every other day, dreaming of fall sunsets, which admittedly occur here too in glorious colors but lately I’ve been so lost in care that things like this tend to escape my notice. Still, tonight was one of those Halloween type nights, with a glowing moon and shadowing branchy trees cutting the orange sky.

Normally, I love fall in the Northeast, a season I never had growing up in San Francisco. I loved the crackle underfoot and in the crisp air. It felt homey, without ever reminding me of home. This year, there is something unbearably nostalgic about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s that feeling of being so lost in thought that I barely even notice what is going on around me. It’s that feeling that I need to see the water, breathe the ocean, that I can’t shake. This year, homey just won’t do — it will have to be home.

And so home. The Pacific Coast. The sunset hidden by layers of fog and mist that cannot be shaken. Ginger molasses cookies. Because that’s one of the first things I learned how to bake and they will always be my favorite. The only cookies I made in high school after coming home on Saturday mornings, after cross-country practice in Golden Gate Park. Crackly tops, rolled in sugar crystal. Spicy (I grated crystallized ginger into them) and dark sticky molasses. Is it Christmas yet?

White Chocolate Mint Pot de Creme

October 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’d say from the crunch of leaves underfoot, softened by the cold wetness of the air, that summer has officially come and gone. And with summer, a lot of the illusions I had about people, the next year or so, and the ones who would be in it. But there’s a bright side of every change and today, it’s becoming more and more clear.

Snuggled into wool winter socks, fleece blankets and chunky sweaters, all I’ve wanted to do for the past week has been to curl up in bed and watch TV, waiting for the world to pass by. Which for me, isn’t an ordinary desire as watching TV is usually towards the very bottom on my list of activities. Instead, every night ends with a struggle to finish the readings for tomorrow, an impromptu trip to the gym, where I do my 20-minute weight circuit surrounded by an eclectic group of boys — the body builders, the slightly-pudgy, the geeky ones you never thought you’d see doing bicep curls —, and then a stop at the campus late-night cooking-baking hut. A freezing day finished with a caramely chocolate chip cookie. There are worse things in the world.

I had my first pumpkin scone of the season the other day. Sugar-crusted, fluffy, accompanied by my everyday morning latte. I was sitting in a corner of the café, (discreetly) watching some poor boy struggle over a very thick looking textbook, when he got up, looked me directly in the eye, and hesitantly walked over to my table. To my disappointment, the idle chitchat turned into a simple request to watch his stuff while he went to the restroom, but hey….you never know what a smile and a pumpkin scone can do to turn a downcast day around.

When I was paging through what to post today, I got stuck on these blackberry scones I made at the very end of August, when blackberries were unbelievably sweet and fit to burst (and stain everything) with juices. Though they were light, buttery and gushing with fruit, and proof that I have finally overcome my tendency to overwork scone dough — a reflection I think, of my disposition to over think and overwork most parts of my life —, the moment to talk about them seems to have gone and passed me by. Instead I was drawn to the brightness and simplicity of these white chocolate mint pot de crèmes. They can be made anytime you get your hands on fresh mint, and are just as perfect as a winter dessert, accompanied by the recipe’s candy cane brittle, as they are photographed here in my backyard, in the early summer. The brulée on top was a bit gilding the lily, but I never can resist a chance to use my blowtorch.

Strawberry Maple Crumble Muffins

September 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

The days are alternating between warm summer breeze, muggy, rainy, and crisp and chill. I have this song on repeat. If you love me hardcore then don’t walk away. It’s a game, I don’t want to play. The party nights are getting fewer, replaced by nights of curling up in bed with endless reading and my thesis. Yoga has become habit again, as a way to disappear for a couple of hours, pensively sink into myself and my thoughts. I’m craving a visit to the nearby apple orchard. A cider doughnut. Leaf stomping. Vanilla ice cream melted on top of warm apple crisp. It never feels like fall without a kitchen, so I guess we’re stuck in a summer-spring mix for a bit longer.

You could say that strawberries are well out of season. But muffins and maple syrup aren’t. I brought back the cutest little muffin liners from France and wanted to put them to good use — unfortunately, these muffins were so moist and buttery that you can barely distinguish the patterns at all. But I loved the pretty bursts of pink, though I think they’d be equally good with some fall flavors mixed in — a tart apple, a crisper pear.

I loosely followed this 101 Cookbooks recipe for Maple Huckleberry Coffee Cake. I left out the fresh thyme, because I imagined it wouldn’t be something that the family would enjoy, though the adventurous and experimental part of me urges you to try it.

Pear-Cranberry Ginger Crumble

November 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Just when we were preparing for a long period of hibernation, just when I was preparing to outlast the snow, the sleet, and the slush, it suddenly became summer again. Well, as close to summer as you can get mid-November; Hey, I was actually wearing shorts today! And I realized that with all the time I’ve spent complaining about being stuck in Princeton, and how awful and uninspiring most of this state is, I’ve neglected to tell you about the beautiful parts of New Jersey.

We spent the last weekend on our fall break at my long-time roommate’s house in northwest New Jersey. My roommate is a very defensive defender of New Jersey. Crack one joke about how dirty Jersey is, and you’re in for a spiel about how all of Jersey isn’t Newark. And as much as we give her a hard time, she’s right.

Her house sits on the highest piece of land for miles around, above the largest reservoir I have ever seen. We happened upon the area at the peak of fall, when the air was chilly and brisk and the trees hadn’t quite ridded themselves of their yellowed leaves. We spent the majority of the weekend being what we call “old ladies.” We went on short walks, did crossword puzzles, watched movies, and baked every night — a sort of routine that was as enjoyable as it was comforting. We did some hill running that was more or less comparable to running at home in San Francisco. We made this pear-cranberry gingersnap crumble, and may have spooned it over oat pancakes and topped it with maple syrup from a two-gallon jug the next morning. The morning’s activities were interspersed with updates from the New York City Marathon on TV. Next thing we knew, break was over and we were piling up in the car and driving back to campus.

This crumble combines all the flavors I love about the fall — the spicy bite of ginger, the tartness of cranberries and the sweetness of soft, translucent cooked pears. It was impossible to ignore sitting on the countertop. We added an extra apple, thinking the fruit filling might get too mushy with ripe pears. Oh, and we browned the butter, of course. Otherwise, we left the recipe untouched.

Pumpkin Gingerbread Cupcakes

November 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Things that are making me happy today: Fictional Life

Blake, the gangly cross country captain of McCormick High, liked to play piano. He sat on the black and white tiled floor and strummed his fingers on his cloth suitcase tap ti tap tap tap. Every so often, he looked up at the screen monitor. An hour and a half later, it still said delayed.

From his vantage point on the floor, he watched the people passing by — starting with the shoes, the suitcase wheels, and the occasional cane. He unzipped his suitcase and took out a cinnamon bun his mother had packed earlier this morning. It was still warm.

A pair of stiletto heels walked by. A lady he presumed, but a glance upward saw a girl, maybe two or three years older than him, in a tight black skirt and a shirt that reflected the iridescent, industrial lighting of the station. A middle-aged man, in loafers and a crumpled pinstripe shirt sat down on a cold metal chair nearby. An older man with trembling fingers slowly fumbled to page 3 of yesterday’s Lifestyles section. A young couple smooched by the entrance to Track 8 before the man stepped on the escalator. The woman then turned around so as to not watch him leave. She had deep wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and, lips pursed, seemed determined not to cry. A young man in a badly-knotted tie dashed by her, clutching a briefcase to his chest, late for his first day of work. Blake turned his attention back to the cinnamon bun.

It was slightly dense; he could see his mother mixing the dough vigorously at the countertop. The layers didn’t flake off easily, and the thick icing left his fingers sticky and his mouth parched. He wiped his fingers on the tiled floor. A woman in a suit happened to walk by at that moment and gave him a look of disgust. He looked back at her skirt suit, stretched so it formed creases down her body, he wondered if she knew the snag in her tights was quickly making its way up her left leg as she walked. He smirked.

She was someone his mother would call a fake. Someone who didn’t know her real station in life. Sometimes his mother would come home Sunday mornings ranting about the new women on the church food committee. Fakes, she would say, social climbers the lot of them. One Easter, one of the women had made a batch of beautiful sugar cookies, shaped and decorated like bunnies and Easter eggs. Everyone had raved about them and his mother had harped for a week afterword about how they couldn’t possibly have been any good. Blake had stopped going to church a year ago.

The train was now delayed for another hour, according to the monitor. A voice on the loudspeaker blamed the snowstorm for a track foreclosure near Mystic, Connecticut. Blake hopped up, stretching out his legs that were an inch too long for his pants — his mother never shopped for clothes fast enough. He thought maybe he’d have a glass of water, and dragged his suitcase to the donut shop. But when he got to the front of the line, he said I’ll have a cup of coffee instead. He counted out a dollar in dimes. He had never had coffee before.

I should probably note than these are pumpkin gingerbread cupcakes made from some recipe that I just can’t seem to find anymore. The only info I have on them is that the recipe was printed in some Boston publication. But really the notable part was that I browned a half cup of salted butter on the stovetop, then stirred in the necessary amount of powdered sugar to make the mixture spreadable. Then I iced the cupcakes. And they were amazing. But I think eating the icing from my finger was equally amazing. 

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

October 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

I used to hate pumpkin with a passion, the same way I now hate raisins, cooked carrots and orange-chocolate (sorry, I was scrounging for a third hatred). Then one year, I went home for Thanksgiving and spent the first night sitting on the kitchen floor with a blender and my little brother, trying to puree roasted pumpkin for my very first pumpkin pie. I’m still not sure what possessed me to do it, given the icky color of pumpkin pie filling, its oftentimes-nauseating texture and the simple fact that I didn’t like pumpkin. But together, we dutifully made this pumpkin pie and — much to my surprise — I actually liked it, so much that I snuck tiny slivers from the fridge for the rest of the weekend.

From that, the next natural step seemed to be to start craving pumpkin spice lattes come fall. To get excited when seasonal pumpkin pie Clif bars finally hit the stores. To roast pumpkin with nutmeg and browned butter. And to start baking other pumpkin items. Cookies, packed with dried cranberries, white chocolate chips and mini marshmallows, to be devoured on the bus post-race. Fragrant, spicy muffins topped with oat strudel. Which is exactly what these are —

I spent this past weekend in New York City with my mother. We went to the theatre. We dined at Prune, where we started with fresh radishes spread with sweet butter and roasted eggplant with tangy yogurt and ended with an exquisite bitter chocolate pot de crème and mascarpone ice cream topped with caramel croutons which soaked up the excess, melting cream.

We sat at tables that were too small for all the plates, and slurped spicy noodles at a communal table to the loud din of East Village bar-life and dishes being thrown in for washing in open-floor kitchens. We stumbled upon lunchtime food-truck markets and weekend farmers markets. We sampled various pumpkin treats, and I found most of them to be too dry and lacking a certain pop of flavor. The last evening, we gathered together the ingredients in the hotel room and I made these pumpkin spice muffins, which were everything I had hoped for flavor-wise from the baked goods at the market, and twice as cute.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, via the American club, in Kohler, Wisconsin via Gourmet Magazine
Among the changes I made to this recipe (like adding a topping! and using brown butter!) was making the batter entirely in the small saucepan. Given the minuscule size of the hotel kitchen and the lack of mixing bowls, this made a lot of sense. That said, even if your kitchen is massive, it’s still one less dirty bowl.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 15-ounce can solid-packed pumpkin
1/3 cup butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the topping:
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons vanilla turbinado sugar
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a small saucepan brown the butter until it smells nutty and you see flakes of amber at the bottom of the pan. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the sugar, eggs, salt, pumpkin, spices, baking powder and baking soda. I added the eggs last, in order to give the butter a chance to cool down a bit first. Fold the flour into the wet mixture, being careful not to over mix. Spoon the batter into non-stick or greased muffin tins, filling each mold about 2/3 high.

To make the topping, combine the oats, flour and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Crumble the butter in with your hands until you reach an even consistency and the oats start to stick together. Add the white chocolate chips and stir to distribute evenly. Sprinkle the topping on each muffin.

Bake muffins for 25 to 30 minutes or until a knife stuck in the center of one comes out clean.

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