Jun 012014

Strawberry cream scones

For the last week, through the wonder of u-pick farms, I have been awash in multiple gallons of fresh strawberries. This is in no way a terrible predicament, though I have been plagued by the question of what do I do with all of them??? I started simple by throwing them in a fruit salad and making strawberry-blueberry shortcake — pretty basic, but I figured that basic (and easy) was a good way to go when they were at peak freshness. Next came a pie (whose filling was delicious but whose crust we shall never speak of again, except to exclaim that, when given flour, butter, lard, salt, sugar, water, and vodka, I can make a kick-ass crust, but when I try to actually use a pre-made crust, utter ruin rules the day) and the decadent grown-up flavors of Jeni’s recipe for roasted strawberry buttermilk ice cream. And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t repeat my strawberry bourbon-barrel freezer jam.

But this morning I finally got to try my hand at baking with the berries. A friend of mine hooked me on scone-baking several months ago, and though I’ve been in remission recently, I decided to succumb to the bug once again. There were plenty of fancy and complicated recipes out there, but I was looking for something that was a marriage of the simple goodness of a basic cream scone with plenty of room for strawberries to shine. Once again, Smitten Kitchen came through and delivered this gem. So if you find yourself in a situation where you might need to swim Scrooge McDuck-style through a glut of strawberries and you would like to vary from the technique that my tot is demonstrating below, may I suggest that you give this marvelous scones a try?

Leah and her strawberry

Click for the recipe →

Mar 242013

Browned-butter cookies!

The quest for the ultimate chocolate-chip cookie is a bit of a thing for people like myself. Sure, you could go with the back-of-the-chocolate-chip-bag one, but while there’s nothing wrong with it per se, there’s nothing special about it. And even though the chocolate-chip cookie is the standard, that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. It appears that others agree, so a zillion recipes and versions abound, which leaves you with a conundrum: how do you find the best? And what are your criteria for the best? Some people like chewy cookies, some like crispy, some like super-sweet, others like excessively-chocolatey. And some weirdos even like nuts in them. And I certainly have more than one recipe that I adore. The point is: if you can think of a cookie characteristic, you can find someone who thinks that it’s absolutely necessary and a recipe that corresponds to that criterion.

Luckily, this recipe can please just about everyone.

Chewy in the center, a bit crisp on the edges, warm and gooey flavors of toffee throughout (and yes, you weirdos can add nuts if you please), this cookie is simply made of magic. The secret is in the browned butter and extra egg yolk, and the seemingly-fussy mixing-method gives results unlike any I’ve ever seen before. And in theory, these cookies are perhaps even better the next day, but really, do you think they’re likely to survive that long?

Browned-butter cookies!

Click for the recipe →

Mar 172013

Whole-wheat buttermilk loaf and rolls

Whole-wheat bread gets a bad rap. And that’s too bad, really, because it doesn’t (necessarily) deserve it. Especially when you consider that there are scads of bad white bread out there, but for some reason, those loaves haven’t painted all of white-bread-dom with the mark of evilness.

Is it just because bad whole-wheat bread tends to be heavy and dense? Don’t get me wrong: I’ve made several of those bricks, erm, loaves myself, but the flavor of the bread was still quite good.

I started to understand better when I took a bread class that had us making six or so different kinds of bread. One was the requisite whole-wheat loaf, and when I bit into it, I suddenly understood why some people hated whole-wheat bread: the loaf that had been made from that recipe was awful: the bread was not only dense, but was also bitter and completely unpalatable. I wish I could tell you what had gone wrong so that you could avoid those things, but I threw that recipe away, ne’er to look upon it again.

Whole-wheat buttermilk rolls set up to proof

So I’m here to tell you that if that has been your experience in whole-wheat bread-making, then I am here to rescue you. This recipe makes a loaf that is tender and almost feather-light. Its flavor is sweet yet pleasantly tangy and goes well in almost any application, be it shaped into sandwich loaves, toasted, or made into burger-buns or kaiser rolls. It’s really become my go-to recipe because though there are a handful of whole-grain bread recipes that I like as much or more (like this one or that one), this one is the most reliable and the easiest to make.

So give this recipe a chance, won’t you? I think you’ll find — like everyone I’ve introduced this bread to — that it’s a game-changer.

Whole-wheat buttermilk loaf

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Mar 082013

Irish-American soda bread

This time of year, Irish soda breads start popping up in bakeries everywhere. They are either dry and chalky or delicious and decadent, in which case they obviously contain relatively expensive ingredients, which is pretty improbable in a bread ostensibly born of frugality at the hands of Irish potato farmers. More irritating to me, however, is the fact that most of the loaves you find in bakeries are obviously yeasted, which, I mean, come on, really? It’s soda bread, as in baking soda. Harumph.

So while this recipe is clearly not authentic (why hello there, butter and sugar and eggs! Fancy meeting you here!), at least it makes no pretenses about what it is. It’s not a loaf of yeast bread that has been formed into a boule and slashed (slashed! Just try doing that to a soda bread batter!), and the recipe helpfully includes the descriptor “American,” cluing you into the fact that peasant food it’s not. Authentic it may not be, but honest it surely is.

Irish-American soda bread

Because of that, I like to think that this is a bread that my maternal grandmother would approve of. She was 100% Irish and took delight in her heritage. When I think of the time spent in her house when I was young, the Irish proverbs are one of the first-and-foremost elements in the settings of those memories. So when my Mom was visiting me over St Patrick’s Day in 2008, we decided to honor Muggsy and try several new recipes for the holiday. The results had highs and lows: we swore off ever again making pistachio cookies that had instant pudding in them (they had a really unpleasant mouth-feel) but this recipe became an instant favorite. I always make it along with my corned beef and cabbage and serve it for dessert. The left-overs make an excellent breakfast bread. So, from my Irish family to yours (whether you’re Irish or not), I hope you enjoy this bread and that it makes you feel a little greener this St Paddy’s Day!

(Note: I had been preparing to make this recipe in just a few days’ time when I learned that I’d have to cut out dairy for my daughter’s sake. I was a bit devastated because I’ve literally been looking forward to this bread for months, but not being one to slink away with my tail between my legs, I resolved to adapt it for my new dietary restrictions. I admit that I was skeptical going into the mixing and baking but was very pleasantly surprised when I finally tasted it. It’s a very close facsimile of the original and far exceeded my expectations. If you’re sensitive to dairy, please do give the dairy-free version at the end of the recipe a try and let me know how you like it.)

Irish-American soda bread

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Feb 032013

Eggs are magic.

Many food cultures seem to agree and have come up with their own version of savory eggy dishes. Omelets and quiches are pretty well-known, but have you ever had a frittata?

The Italians dreamed this one up. Envision a crust-less quiche without the usual addition of cream to the filling and you’ve got the measure of this bit of deliciousness. These things, like omelets, can be as simple or as fancy-pants as you’d care to make them, which makes them ideal for situations when you’re short on time but don’t want to sacrifice the yum-factor — no matter what time-of-day you’re cooking for. They go as effortlessly from the dinner table to delicious left-overs warmed-up for breakfast.

I’ve been making this version of frittata for years. I like it because I nearly always have the ingredients on hand, prep is done in five minutes, and about twenty minutes after that, I’m pulling dinner (or breakfast/brunch/lunch) out of the oven. Feel free to add and subtract ingredients to suit your whims. Nearly anything goes, so next time that carton of eggs in your fridge challenges you to a staring contest, show it who’s boss and whip up a frittata!.

Spinach and feta frittata

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Dec 162012


Ahh, eggnog. What’s not to love? Aside from the cloying taste and extra-thick unnatural texture, that is. I also want to wail in despair whenever I read the ingredient list, as cheap, low-quality sweeteners are usually the second ingredient and it just goes down-hill from there. Luckily, those issues are easy to remedy by making this holiday treat at home.

I had long wanted to tackle this drink at home, but hadn’t dipped my toes in until this year, when I saw a great write-up on America’s Test Kitchen feed, and inspiration struck. So we headed to the market to get really good eggs, and you can imagine what happened from there.

Yesterday was a very Christmas-y day in our kitchen. I made my family’s gingerbread mini-muffins, and when the process was interrupted (as it invariably is these days) by the baby’s need to eat, The Hubs jumped into action and made the nog. So there were plenty of reasons to be merry in the house, and if you are looking for one to brighten up your own holiday, you can look no further!

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Aug 302009

In an effort to get back into the swing of this blogging thing, I’m going to make a post today devoid of any real substance (i.e. recipes) because I have no new substance to report. Rather, this I’ll be posting gratuitous shots of some of the food I cooked today, all of which has been seen here before.

First up are the beloved pumpkin spice cookies. Last week whilst in the grocery store I was literally flabbergasted to find Halloween candy for sale. My brain was seriously thinking it was still July or something and was wondering why they were hawking old candy. I was happier when I realized that the appearance of the sickly sweet stuff on the shelves means one thing: it’s time to start baking these jewels again. I particularly enjoy the third photo when blown up to take over the entire screen and viewed with the benefit of a few feet of distance. It almost made Cory start drooling in his tracks.

Pumpkin spice cookies: cooling their heels
Nikon D50
Pumpkin spice cookies: good things come in piles!
Nikon D50
Pumpkin spice cookies: good things come in piles!
Nikon D50

Cory and I have been loving the grill recently. It doesn’t get much more simple than slicing up some veggies, crumbling some dried Greek oregano over them, and throwing them over the fire to blacken and soak up that flavor. We usually also grill fish, especially right now while the Alaskan seafood is so good (but admittedly not quite as fresh as I’m used to). Tonight we feasted on King salmon — a true indulgence — prepared in the usual manner, also pictured here and here — along with grilled zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and julienned onion (alas, the light was gone by the time it was prepared, so no photos tonight) and – another special treat – caprese salad.

[Hold on, I think I hear a riot forming in the back. What’s that, you say? I’ve never actually posted a recipe for caprese salad? Ah, that’s right, I’ve just posted a photo. Don’t fret. It couldn’t get any easier. It’s a pity because it’s certainly a favorite but I don’t know that it justifies its own entry. Anyway, here goes: take a large very ripe (preferably local because it’s really hard to find truly ripe tomatoes that aren’t local) tomato, heirloom if you can get it. Take a half-pound of fresh mozzarella cheese. Slice both into 1/4-inch thick slices and arrange on a plate. You can put the tomatoes flat and place mozzarella on top of them or you can place them vertically – it’s up to you and how fancy-pants you’re feeling. Made a chiffonade out of some basil and sprinkle it over the arrangement. Finish with a drizzle of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil and some fresh cracked pepper. Skip the balsamic — good caprese is only hurt by it. Proceed to dazzle your tastebuds with one of the most simple and delicious foods out there. If you’re into, y’know, kicking it up a notch (oh god, I think I just threw up a little in my mouth), use buffalo mozzarella – mozzarella di bufala. It’s spendy but the flavor and texture are beyond compare. In further kicking-it-up action, spring for an heirloom tomato. My favorites are the Black Krims. Oh, and do yourself a favor – save those seeds and plant them next year! Another variation – great for parties – select some good cherry or grape tomatoes and find mozzarella sold in similar-sized balls. Get a bunch of basil. Take a wooden or bamboo skewer and put a tomato, a basil leaf, and a mozzarella ball onto it. Repeat until your ingredients are exhausted. Arrange on a tray and drizzle with olive oil and pepper.]

Whew. That was quite an aside for an entry that’s supposed to be all pretty pictures. But I digress.

But this was no mere caprese salad! This was, indeed, the fancy-pants variation described above! Marvel Stripe heirloom tomatoes! Buffalo mozz! Basil from the garden! And the clouds parted and Lo, the angels did sing, and it was good. And then it was in my tummy.

Black Russian heirloom tomatoes.  YUM.
Nikon D50
Marvel Stripe heirloom tomato with Russian Black heirloom tomatoes in the background.  YUM.
Nikon D50
Marvel Stripe heirloom tomato with mozzarella di bufala and basil from the garden.  YUM.
Nikon D50
Feb 242008

Espresso. Brandy. Ladyfingers. Chocolate. Marscapone.

When you look at that list you may find yourself wondering, “What possibly could go wrong?”

And if you answered an enthusiastic “Nothing!” you would be so, so wrong. I sure as hell hope you didn’t bet the farm on that one.

Yummy, perfect tiramisu
Nikon D50

Tiramisu, at its best, is light yet rich, warm-tasting with brandy notes, with espresso to offset the sweetness, and because everything is better with chocolate, a liberal dusting of some Scharffen Berger. However, when executed improperly, it’s flat tasting, bitter, and soggy. Trust me, you don’t want soggy tiramisu.

It’s one of those dishes where everything has to go right. Because of that, I won’t order it in restaurants anymore, not even the one that Cory took me to for dessert on my birthday, because they screw it up and frankly, mine is a hell of a lot better (sorry Cory, I know you meant well!).

Luckily, if you have a good recipe, like the one I’m about to share with you, you can’t go wrong. Too many recipes for tiramisu are too vague and include verbiage like “stir a couple of times” or “heat until lukewarm” and that sort of imprecision, while maybe appearing a little less intimidating to the novice cook, is a recipe for disaster. For soggy, flaccid, bitter disaster. And you know I would never do that to you.

Yummy, perfect tiramisu
Nikon D50

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Jun 232007

Irish steel-cut oats

I’ve always been a breakfast person. Not really in the way that many other Americans are, where they like lots of bagels and cereals and other really unhealthy and non-nutritious foods, but more in the way that I like to get something healthy in my tummy that will stick with me until my mid-morning snack. This is sufficiently different, versatile, receptive to substitutions, and, of course, yummy, to meet all of my needs. They do take longer to cook than their gloppy rolled cousin, so I cook a week’s worth at a time and reheat as I need it. Nowadays it’s impossible to open my fridge without finding a massive batch of these oats, just waiting for their turn to be consumed.

And just look at them! It’s easy to see why!

Oatmeal with pomegranate seeds

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Jun 022007

Until I made this dessert at home, I had never had panna cotta in the United States.

I hadn’t even heard of this indulgent dish until a couple of months ago, when I met someone in Korea who had actually taught at the Culinary Institute of America. I haven’t met many people who are bigger foodies than me, but he definitely qualified. A few of us were looking for a restaurant in Seoul for dinner and we decided to pop into an Italian place, and my chef comrade ordered it for dessert, served with a perfect raspberry sauce on top. “Not too shabby,” I thought, but didn’t think too much of it again until Cory’s and my honeymoon.

After our day trip into Siena, we returned to Florence intent on finding a classic Tuscan dinner. We looked through our guidebooks and found a place or two that looked promising on paper but were totally uninspiring when viewed in person. So we started to wander the streets, looking for those wonderful Italian hole-in-the-walls that you hear about from all your friends who were lucky enough to go to Italy when they were still in college.

All of a sudden we passed by a Il Latini, a restaurant that looked very cozy and the menu was actually entirely in Italian, which I took to be a good sign that this place was authentic. It was about 7:05 and the place didn’t open until 7:30, so we decided to wait, queuing up like, well, normal civilized people would. About ten minutes later a man walked up and asked if anyone there spoke English, and almost all of us answered that we did. “This is the third time this week that my wife and I have been here, and trust me, the wait is worth it.” Cory and I grinned at each other at this, and the man continued, “I know you all think that you’re lined up like rational, courteous people, but trust me, when it gets closer to opening all the locals are going to start massing around the door. Lines will mean nothing!”

Well, you know what they say, when in Rome….

So we gaggle up, and before long the man is proven correct when these people start amassing around us, trying to get in ahead of us even though we’ve been waiting twenty-five minutes. ‘Oh hell no!’ I thought to myself. “If anyone tries to get around you, throw ’em an elbow!” was Cory’s husbandly advice. And throw an elbow I did!

We managed to get in at the first seating and were seated at a table with another couple. The huge bottle of house wine was already on the table, and the food starting coming almost immediately. We never saw a menu, but everything they brought was superb: insalata caprese, pate on crostini, and tabbouleh made with barley for antipasti, Tuscan tomato and bread soup for me and gnocchi with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes for Cory for primi, roast beef for me and roasted lamb for him for secondi, and then a delicious dessert wine, biscotti, espresso, (something delicious that I can’t remember), and, of course, panna cotta with a velvety chocolate sauce for dolci. It was an amazing meal (quoth Cory: “my brain pretty much shut down so that the only thing working was the taste buds”) and an unforgettable dining experience in my favorite city.

It was also, of course, a wonderful reminder of a dessert that is fast becoming a favorite.

Vanilla bean panna cotta

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