Oct 232009
 

I hardly ever make apologies for my cooking for any reason whatsoever. I take great pride in what comes out of my kitchen and get great joy from sharing that food with others.
With these delectable little cookies, however, apologies might be in order. Don’t get me wrong – they’re excellent, it’s just that they’re so rich that unless your ovaries have taken you hostage and are demanding nothing less than a chocolate IV now, indulging in more than, say, two, might be out of the realm of possibility. Even if you find yourself in the midst of a hostage crisis, a chaser of milk (preferably straight from the carton!) is still necessary.

Chocolate chopped up for cookie delights!
Nikon D50

Richness aside, these suckers are delicious. So sinfully delicious, it’s said, that if everyone in the world had these, conflict and war would no longer be issues. I’m inclined to agree – these cookies can cure what ails you. Well, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually at any rate, if not physically (unless butter and chocolate are agents of healing now).

Ready to go in the oven
Nikon D50

As for the world peace bit, I’m doing my part. I’ve sent these cookies throughout the world, including war zones, as gifts that are meant to bring comfort and happiness to those who needed it, whether it was because they were missing their families or because they had just had their hearts broken. They’ve also done good domestically, be it by bringing a bit of cheer to shift workers on a dreary Monday or by raising money for charities in need.

Ready to eat!
Nikon D50

I should confess that I’m not totally altruistic with these cookies. Not every batch is for a good cause (see previous statement about ovaries taking a certain person hostage) – because, really, sometimes you just gotta keep some of the riches that flow from your kitchen to yourself. Even if you’re impeding world peace by doing so, I don’t think anyone will blame you!

Ready to eat!
Nikon D50

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Oct 262008
 

You may be sad because summer has come to an end, taking with it delightful foods like nectarines, plums, berries, and locally grown vegetables like greens, cauliflower, chard, beets, and carrots.

But don’t fret! Fall has its place in a foodie’s heart because it brings delights like root vegetables, butternut squash, pumpkins, an untold number of apple varieties, Bartlett pears, and pomegranates.

I recently celebrated fall by having a harvest dinner (suggested by my most wise and venerable husband). On the menu was a roasted pear salad with candied walnuts, blue cheese, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, cabernet-glazed shallots, butternut squash risotto with wilted spinach and toasted pine nuts, sauteed pork tenderloin with an apple-sage sauce, and stuffed baked Jonagold apples with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. I love this menu — it’s so autumn-y with its warm, subtle flavors and unifying themes. Sage and apple are present in many of the dishes but are different and subtle enough to not get old or tiring. And as my guests pointed out last night, there’s plenty of booze in every dish! So dig in and get to love autumn as much as I do, and share it with some good friends too.

Savory, delicious flavors star in this sumptuous autumn feast
Nikon D50

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May 182008
 

The scene: a beautiful summer’s evening. A gathering of friends has come together to feast on grilled halibut, lemon linguine, and flash-cooked veggies. Everything was quite delicious and fresh, and all tummies were singing with joy. But the dessert was yet to be served!

Succulent strawberries form the base of this fresh, healthy dessert
Nikon D50

Yours truly decided to serve another dish in the vein of fresh summer fare. I pulled out vanilla ice cream, strawberries, and a good balsamic vinegar and proceeded to combine them. I could tell this had thrown my guests for a loop and no one was particularly looking forward to trying this syrupy brown stuff drizzled all over their perfectly good berries and ice cream. But the moment that combination touched their lips, I could tell that I had a table full of converts.

Should you have a similar reaction to the thought of strawberries and balsamic vinegar, I ask that you recite this eleventh commandment to yourself:

Thou shalt not doubt the culinary creations of your hostess, for lo, she will not lead you astray on the path to yumminess.

Strawberry-balsamic vinegar sorbet
Nikon D50

This sorbet is in the same spirit of the combination I served last summer. This recipe really doesn’t get any easier. Sorbets are usually based on a simple syrup but even that didn’t make it onto this three-ingredient list. That’s how simple it is! It’s really delicious too – strawberries are always good, and when you add a good balsamic to the mix you get something really special. When you add the fact that it’s a frozen dessert, well, that just makes it the perfect summer dessert, doesn’t it?

Let the simple, fresh flavors shine!
Nikon D50

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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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Jan 242008
 

There is something about baking a pastry – a real, from-scratch, layered bit of flaky dough – that makes you feel like a total badass.

Let’s face it, pastries have a pretty formidable reputation. They’re certainly not in the “if you can boil water you can handle this” category. I’ve always had a huge soft spot for croissants, but there is another indulgence – the humble Danish pastry – that has a special, sentimental significance to me.

If there was ever a recipe for me to cut my pastry chef teeth on, this one had to be it.

Follow the yellow butter road
Nikon D50

See, this is another recipe that is near and dear to my heart. Like beef burgundy, my family has been eating these delicacies around holidays since I can remember. Perhaps even more significant, my Mom has been eating them ever since she can remember. When she was a kid, her next-door neighbor (the eponymous Mrs. B) would bring them over each Christmas Eve so that their family could chow down on them the next day. Before my parents’ wedding, my Mom had a kitchen shower where the guests brought treasured recipes to give to her. Mrs. B brought this.

Dough coiled and ready to rise
Nikon D50

So when, as I mentioned earlier, Cory and I were in the midst of forging our own traditions, these little gems were so in. I made my very first batch sans supervision this last Christmas (my previous foray being the year before when my Mom was visiting for Thanksgiving) and on the morning of Cory and I ate like royalty, feasting on the light, fluffy, and delicate (both in flavor and texture) yumminess.

Pastries glazed, baked, and cooled
Nikon D50

I will warn that this is not the easiest recipe I’ve ever posted. In fact, if you lack the proper patience it’s probably actually the hardest I’ve shared thus far. So with that in mind, use a light hand when folding the dough – you don’t want to tear it. If it happens, don’t hesitate to pinch the dough closed and put the dough in the fridge since it will start oozing butter. So take your time, enjoy being a real-life badass pastry chef, and enjoy the end result even more!

A pastry close up
Nikon D50

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Jul 122007
 

Who doesn’t love biscotti? This Italian twice-baked crispy cookie is wonderful with a cup of espresso or an after-dinner cordial, but let’s admit it: sometimes we get tired of the usual almond or lemon flavor.

Enter the humble cranberry and pistachio, the two secret ingredients that make the flavor much brighter and crunch more satisfying. I like this recipe so much that when I recently learned my friend Jeremy was studying for his impending bar exam, I resolved to make him some yummy treats for a morale package. Cookies were a given, but what else to add? And it occurred to me: Jeremy is probably drinking lots of coffee right now, so biscotti were the logical choice to add to the list of goodies. Using this recipe was a no-brainer. I mean, we all love chocolate and I make a mean chocolate-almond biscotti, but I ended up eschewing this because Jeremy doesn’t like almonds in cookies. Surely he has access to lots of great biscotti (he lives in Seattle!) so needed a departure from biscotti boredom.

He, it seems, agreed. They were the highest-rated of the three types of baked goods I sent him, and he called them “exceptional.” The bonus? These are relatively healthy (for a cookie, at least), so feel free to indulge in an extra one or two the next time your nose is stuck in a book and your hand is cramping from all of the essays you’re writing.

Cranberry and pistachio biscotti

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Jul 042007
 

Blueberry buttermilk pancakes

I’m normally a fan of healthy breakfasts — y’know, oatmeal, whole-grain low-fat muffins, or multi-grain pancakes or waffles. Every once in a while though, an indulgence is so much fun.

The first time these pancakes got busted out was a couple of weeks ago when a new bunch of people was assigned to me. I thought a good icebreaker would be a big breakfast feed, so everyone signed up to bring an ingredient. I nominated a couple of trusty helpers and we went down to the kitchens to cook this meal for thirty people.

These pancakes were certainly yummy, but I had a sneaking suspicion I wasn’t doing the recipe justice. See, the recipe has you fold in beaten-into-peaks egg whites and I could tell that by the time the batter met the griddle — hours after everything had been mixed together — the volume was definitely lower. I was pretty sure these pancakes could be even lighter and fluffier.

Blueberry buttermilk pancakes

This morning, I tested that theory. The result has me pretty well convinced I’ll never order pancakes in a restaurant again. Why would I, when I could make these at home??? They’re so sinfully delicious, so light and fluffy. And the aroma as the batter is mixed is indescribable.

The next time you feel like treating yourself — or someone you love — make up a batch of these. I know I’ll be making these for my favorite person when he comes to visit in ten days! (squeeeeeeeeeeee!)

Blueberry buttermilk pancakes

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Jun 022007
 
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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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