Wednesday, November 3, 2010

pumpkins, part one

Oh hey there, friends. Meet the worst blogger ever. (One posting in October? What kind of "schedule" does that follow, exactly?) This post is not exactly complete (hence the whole "part one" thing up top), but I thought I'd try to throw something up here before you forgot about me completely.

By the way, I really like you! Anyway, onto pumpkins.

Jena came to California last week! It was pretty much amazing. True to Stephanie fashion, I neglected to pull out my camera for the vast majority of the week, and thus I only have 2 photos even worth sharing with you. (I know, I know.) But the quick rundown of what we did: giggled and smiled and hugged. Saw dolphins at Baker Beach! (Also, unsuccessfully tried to avoid awkward naked guy at Baker Beach.) Looked for parking. Pondered about Sufjan's life after his thought-provoking concert at the Paramount. Went to our first (and second...) drive-in movie. Ate stuff, a lot of stuff. And drank coffee. Of course.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every person needs a good dose of hipster every now and then. We got a healthy helping with our breakfast our very first morning. (above: Blue Bottle Gibraltar, pumpkin buttermilk donut.)

If you're ever in the Temescal neighborhood of northern Oakland, you must must stop by Pizzaiolo for an espresso drink and a donut (Monday-Saturday, 8am-12pm). The pumpkin one was pretty TDF (and this is coming from someone who used to hate pumpkin).

Also...I baked some pumpkin bread. I don't actually have any of the bread to show you (whoops), but I did work really hard to lick all the batter off of the beater and spatula and bowl. See?

Since you dear people are so patient with me, I'll share the recipe with you. (Saw that one coming, did you?!) I also picked up a sugar pumpkin today at Trader Joe's, and I think it's high time I taught y'all how to make your own fresh pumpkin puree. (It's so fun!!) Next time, friends.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread
(adapted from Epicurious)

1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (or other neutral-tasting oil)
3 eggs, preferably room temperature
14.5-16 ounces pumpkin, either canned (aka one small can/half of a big can) or fresh
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup chocolate chips (milk, semisweet, or otherwise)

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour two loaf pans (I sprayed mine with that amazing flour spray stuff. Makes my life easier.)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together both sugars and oil to blend. (Note: will look like crumbly, greasy sugar.) Mix in eggs and pumpkin until smooth. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. (Note: the spice blend is something that I've tinkered with a lot. If you prefer a different proportion of spices, definitely adjust as desired. However, I've found that 3 1/2 teaspoons of spice is probably the minimum amount you'd want to use for two loaves of bread.) Stir flour mixture into pumpkin mixture in 2 additions. Mix in chocolate chips.

Pour equal amounts of batter into loaf pans. Smooth out the top with a spatula and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out pretty clean, 60-70 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then tip the bread out onto the rack and let it finish cooling. (If you're not quite ready for two pumpkin bread loaves to enter your life simultaneously, one can be easily frozen by first wrapping it in plastic wrap, then foil (the double wrapping protects against freezer burn)).

Monday, October 18, 2010

awkward popsicles

I started writing this entry last week. It was full of glee because it was warm and wonderful here where I live, and I thought maybe fall had missed the memo. However, yesterday was 50 degrees and raining, so apparently we've just skipped fall altogether and headed straight for winter. No more exulting in the dregs of summer. (I know; it's mid-October, and I should try to maintain realistic expectations.) But for those of you for whom the sun still shines bright and warm, some non-recipes to help you soak in my favorite season.

Watermelon popsicles! Just stick a bunch of chopped up watermelon in a blender and whir it all together. Pour into cutesy star-shaped molds (or dixie cups with wooden popsicle sticks also work). Arrange them in your freezer shelf.

A few hours have a popsicle! How magical.

The title of this post is "awkward popsicles" because I realized during this photo session that I am physically incapable of capturing this popsicle in non-awkward form. See? Awkward.

Awkward again.

Moving away from the awkward's another standby that I adopted over the summer into my regular rotation: panzanella! Officially known as Italian bread salad, unofficially known as throw-stuff-into-it-until-it-looks-good salad. The above is the only real requirement: bread, cubed up (stale is best!), and pan-fried in olive oil until golden and crisp.

Basil from the garden. I learned this awesome tip from The Kitchn: chop up fresh herbs with scissors in a tall glass! Life changing. I'm not kidding.

Heirloom tomatoes, dressed lightly with olive oil, salt, pepper, the aforementioned basil. Also love using lemon cucumber in here.

Top with bread and enjoy your sweet slice of summer while it lasts.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

ain't no party like a tea party

So...this happened a while ago. I hosted a tea party! Cue the harp music, pinkies crooked just so, and overly genteel manners. [top to bottom: lots of cookies, fruit, lemon olive oil cake, Dorie's cafe volcano cookies]

Cue the dainty pieces of fudge.

And the cookies! It wouldn't be a tea part without cookies. This party presented a special challenge: one of the guests, due to some dietary restrictions, sticks to a non-bad fats diet. I had to toss some traditional favorites out the window (scones and devonshire cream) because butter is fairly irreplacable, but in came some other fun things, like that lemon olive oil cake and these peanut butter cookies. Oh, the cookies. You can stud them with chocolate chips or do the traditional criss-cross with a fork after rolling them in sugar. The best part of it all is that these are so easy to make, it's downright embarrassing. You need this recipe in your back pocket/up your sleeve/wherever on your person you keep your recipes...I promise.

Also, you're welcome.

The Easiest Peanut Butter Cookies known to mankind

1 cup peanut butter (general convention states that you should only use highly artificial peanut butter for baking (i.e. Skippy, Jif, etc), but I used natural and it turned out wonderfully)
1 cup sugar
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350.

Stir ingredients together in a bowl until combined. Shape into balls. Roll in more sugar and do that criss-crossy thing with a fork or throw some chocolate chips in the dough. We love it all.

Place on parchment lined cookie sheets and bake 8-10 minutes, definitely depending on how big you made the cookies in the first place. They should be just starting to brown on the bottom. If they start browning on top, they'll turn out crunchy and not chewy (and everyone knows that peanut butter cookies should be chewy, not crunchy. Am I right?!)

And cue the doggie in her perfectly pink party dress! Go big or go home, people.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

this vichyssoise of verbiage

I have been composing this entry in my mind for a long, long time. The words aren't pairing up right, and the mental wastebasket is full of mentally crumpled up pieces of paper containing only silly opening lines.

I'll stop beating around the bush. Someone dear to me left me for grad school (sadly, this is a very common theme for me this year). In a somewhat recent email conversation, she mentioned that we are more like sisters than friends because a) she can make me angry over nothing at the drop of a hat and b) we have almost nothing in common but continue to love each other fiercely. As I think more on this, I wonder what ties us together, and it comes to me: food. Of course.

I don't think I really knew how to love food before Donna. The girl loves food. Living together opened my eyes to all sorts of new ways to orient my life around what soon became our favorite shared activity. We would text each other during class, discussing what to eat for lunch (burritos? pad see ew?).We loved beef: Donna was the steak grilling queen, and my signature dishes were shepherd's pie and mapo dofu. Oh wait, there was also the pasta carbonara I explicitly warned her not to eat because I got immediately sick afterwards. (She ignored me (and was fine).) We would drive way out of our way for the fastest pho service in the world. And once, 10 minutes before it closed for lunch, I saw on the Cheeseboard website that their pizza of the day was my absolute favorite, and we booked it over there, not quite in time, but managing to finagle our way in with our winsome smiles anyway. She would make me coffee and leave me post-it notes telling me to drink it. We drank Coke in bottles at a rock on campus and shared insanely deep conversations, documented here and here and here. I would beg her to do well on her tests so we could get free garlic fries from Smart A's. She would beg me to just try Indian food--I finally broke down senior year.

We've grown since then, naturally. She's upgraded to classier Indian spots, and I am way less picky, hallelujah. But vestiges of the old still remain: I still think the sun rises and sets on a fantastic bowl of freshly fried tortilla chips, and I'd like to think that if Carvel suddenly opened again near us, we'd be first in line on Wednesday for our buy one get one free sundaes, giddy as kids and refusing to share. We are the same, and yet we are not. I cherish the food person you've helped me become, and all the shared food memories I carry around with me could fill a book. I know I'm a little bit late, but happy first week of the rest of your life.

Eggy in a Basket

One morning Donna announced that she wanted to make me "eggy in a basket, like on V for Vendetta". I swiftly integrated it into my own breakfast routine...may have changed a few minor things, but the spirit of it is most definitely still there.

First, butter a slice of bread. Liberally. In the movie Evey is so excited that she is eating butter--she hadn't eaten it since she was a kid. Thus, thumb your nose at your local totalitarian state and butter that bread, one side only. You'll also need to cut a circle out of it. You can do it before you butter or after; it doesn't really matter, but I like doing it after.

Heat a frying pan on medium or so. When it's hot, melt some more butter on it. Yeah, this is necessary. The other side of the bread needs butter love too! When the butter melts, fry the bread just briefly, non-buttered side down, and then crack in an egg. If the bread circle doesn't also fit in the pan, just do it afterwards.

You'll have to flip it at some point, so do that. Cook it for as done as you like your egg. Then, remove to plate, sprinkle with salt and pepper...

and dig in. Use that cute bread circle to mop up the unctuous yolk. Your breakfasts will never be the same. (And yes, D, I know that you don't actually like runny yolks)

What's your favorite breakfast? Mine varies based on the season and my particular mood, but coffee is a given. Eggy in a basket probably shows up about once a week. (And for some breakfast inspiration, check out simply breakfast!)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

i got shot down in southern california tasty things. Southern California is a really, really delicious place. So delicious that I will have to move there and spend years trying out all the stuff that didn't get checked off my to-eat list (although I don't see that happening...) So delicious that I would cry every time I thought about putting on jeans, which are the least accommodating clothing ever. Bring on the dresses. Let's eat some cake.

Last year, in the depths of homesickness for our college towns, us roomies would compare notes. Jena and I would extol the glories of CheeseboardNaan N Curry, and Fenton'sAubrey would regale us with tales of Extraordinary Desserts. Last week, Aubs and I unexpectedly found ourselves in San Diego (at the same time!) and I got my first taste.

Let me tell you, this fine establishment presents a compelling reason to live in San Diego. The beaches, perfect weather, and fish tacos...all good, but this place was BOMB. In the center middle you have tres leches cake...upper left hand is the tortamisu. Between the rose petals and edible gold leaf, I felt thoroughly spoiled and like I was dancing on cloud twenty-five (possibly the effects of way too much sugar).

We went on a food tour! Way, way fun. Here are macarons from The Little Next Door that we ate in the empty courtyard of its big sister restaurant, The Little Door.

Dulce de leche! New goal: learn how to make macarons, feet and all.

The last stop on our tour was at a Japanese place. This sushi is wrapped in soy paper?

It was just less than a year ago that I was raving about xiao long baos in Shanghai. When I found out that there was a Din Tai Fung branch in Arcadia...

Oh hi. Hello cute dumplings full of hot delish soup stuffed with delicate pork surrounded by a soft melty skin. There's a reason that you've inspired a cult following (me irrevocably included)!

(When I look at these photos, I magically forget how much I hate driving there!)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

risotto with roasted vegetables

Hello friends of Stephers,
I am Cinr/Cinders/CC/Cindy/... I guess I go by anything.

In college, Steph and I shared an affinity for Italian, and in summer 2005 I had the great fortune of spending the summer in the most wonderful place, Florence, Italy.

As a poor college student living on loans and a part-time job, I had little money to go out to eat. To go to Italy and not have tons of money to spend on delicious food, this is a food crime. However, one food I did get plenty of, compliments of the hotel we were staying at, was risotto.

Before summer 2005, I had not the slightest idea what risotto was and the first time they served it I was in shock. Excuse me, this is Italy, shouldn't you be serving me pasta everyday? Rice? Has Italy recently been taken over by Asians because this just does not make sense to me.

Remember, I was young and ignorant at the time so don't judge me too harshly.

It has now been five years since that splendid summer of risotto and I haven't had much of it since then. As I was flipping through my cookbooks deciding on what to contribute to this blog, I saw page after page of risotto recipes and nostalgia took over.

The recipe used comes from a Perfect Italian cookbook by Parragon Publishing
Serves 4
5 cups simmering chicken stock - I substituted for 4 cups of chicken broth and 1 cup of water
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp butter - we only used 2 tbsp
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 3/8 cups (10 oz.) risotto rice
8 oz of roasted vegetables - we went with red and green bell peppers and added a little bit of garlic
3/4 cup (3 oz.) grated Parmesan cheese - after going to the TJ's to buy this ingredient this morning I forgot to use it *sigh*
salt and pepper
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh herbs - basil from my new kitchen plant

Start off by heating the stock/broth in a pot. Once it has boiled, bring it down and continue to have it simmer. You'll be adding this gradually to the risotto in a bit.

Heat the oil and 2 tbsp. butter in a "deep pan" over medium heat. When the butter is melted add the onions. Once the onions have acquired a nice golden color (if they are brown, you cooked them for too long), reduce the heat and add the rice. Mix to coat the rice in oil and stir constantly for 2-3 minutes, or until the grains are translucent.

At this point you will gradually add the stock/broth you have had simmering on the stove top. I used a ladle to add while my wonderful friend and neighbor, Melly, stirred the rice. This is a long process (15-17 minutes) of adding the stock and then stirring, and as the broth is absorbed by the rice you add more. I recommend having a friend there share in the experience because it will help the time pass faster, but make sure you are paying attention not to overcook the rice or to drown it in broth.

We didn't use all the broth, so don't feel like you have too. There was 1/3-1/2 cup left over when we finished. Once you have finished adding the broth, add the vegetables.

Make sure there is still some broth left because after you add the vegetables you'll cook it for another 5 minutes. We cooked it for 6 minutes, just waiting for the broth to absorb enough to make the risotto creamy and not drowning.

At this point you can add 1 tbsp. butter, mix well, and then sprinkle in the Parmesan until it melts. We didn't partake in this final step mostly because I forgot, tehehe, but despite that the risotto turned out delicious.

Looks good AND tastes good.

Well, it's been nice visiting, I hope we do this again sometime.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

the world is my lobster roll

Now do not skewer me, please, because I know that there are some ardent sandwich lovers out there. But this darling (and by darling I mean enormous) lobster roll from Sam's Chowder House in Half Moon Bay was named one of the best 5 sandwiches in America (what?!) by the Today Show. Last weekend's visit to HMB necessitated a trip to Sam's. Sure, I doubt the Today Show's food authority status with the rest of you, but lists of exemplary foods are always kind of compelling to me.

Here is what sold it for me: the (giant) lobster pieces are tossed in butter, not mayo (which is standard for lobster rolls). Also, the freshly baked bun is made of that bad-for-you soft white bread, also extremely buttery. Yes and yes! (Note: I love butter!) Okay, do you see how much stinkin lobster meat they tried to cram into that bun? The chips and coleslaw are pretty superfluous. Come to meeee, lobster roll...well, looks like my one reason for going to Maine has been checked off by California (I know; best state ever!)

So...I know I've been a little quiet lately, and I hate it as much as you do, but to make up for it: guest bloggers  next week!! (Plural intended. Two posts in a week? This blog might explode from overuse!) Hi Cindy and Eunice! We're so excited to hear from you!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

on churros, community

Sorry it's been awhile, friends. My computer's life came to an unfortunate end, and the recovery process has been a little painful. Rest in peace, Pippin. (His remaining functional parts are for sale, if you're interested!)

I came to an important realization this past week, which was this: food is best done in community. It sounds a little too obvious to be profound, but for the longest time I really did not understand what that meant at all. While the pleasure of cooking absolutely anything you want the way you want it for and by yourself is undeniable, I am seeing, ever gradually, that there is great richness to be found in the sharing of the food experience. Surveying some of the memorable foods shared over the past week...garlic ice cream (3 times!), garlic fries, garlic chocolate peanut butter cups at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, tacos and coffee and churros at Tacubaya, a late night dash for diner food + ice cream, a too-large batch of yeasted waffles.

Yes, the visible reason for all of these get-togethers was food. But each encounter, in my mind, is characterized less by the garlic and cinnamony-sugary goodness and more by the waves of giggles, time to empathize with each other, insights gained, bonds sustained. It seems that breaking churros together is one of the most beautiful things you can do with another soul.

(Next up: cinnamon ravioli?!)

Monday, July 19, 2010

what the %@$# is cobbler?

Um...hi, friends. Sorry you had to see that.

Anyway, it is summer now, full-blown summer. Triple-digits-every-day summer, walk-around-outside-for-10-minutes-and-get-an-awesome-flip-flop-tan summer, don't-forget-to-wear-deodorant-SERIOUSLY summer. Ah, summer. I love, love, love, love summer.

Guess what else happens in summer? If you said "ginormous $10 flats of peaches!", you are right on. And do you know what happens when the speed at which those peaches are ripening is greater than the speed at which you can cram said peaches into your mouth?

The answer, dears, is peach cobbler.

The problem, dears, when you try to put action to words, is that there is no clear definition of what cobbler actually is. In my mind, it is supposed to look like this, but the kind I've had more looks more like this. And here is a hilarious tale of one woman's quest to define it. Biscuit-like topping or batter surrounding fruit? Some even insist that it must be double-crusted. (Shudder. No. That's a pie.) (To further complicate your life, there also exist fruit desserts in the form of crisps, crumbles, slumps, grunts, buckles, bettys, pandowdys, clafoutis, fools, sugar highs, and headaches.)

This weekend I opted for the batter version. Kind of a cop-out because I really do think that biscuit-top cobbler is the real thing, but I found the batter version scribbled down on a card somewhere in the house. It also closely resembles PW's rendition. Further awesomeness.

This little cobbler went to Alameda.

Friends, any way you assemble it, I promise that this is good! (And it is MANDATORY that you top it with vanilla ice cream. You heard me. Mandatory! Yes, you are responsible for this material for the exam.)

Peach Cobbler

1 stick butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 1/4 cups + more sugar
1 cup self-rising flour (can substitute 1 cup all purpose flour + 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder + 1/2 teaspoon salt)
1 cup milk, room temperature
(at least) 4 cups peaches, peeled and cubed (or enough to cover the bottom of your baking dish + a little bit more)

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter or spray a baking dish. (You can use a 9x13 dish for a thinner cobbler or a smaller dish for a thicker one.)

Combine the cubed peaches in a bowl with a tablespoon of sugar and let sit. This will help get them all syrupy and yummy.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the sugar, the flour, and the milk. Whisk in the melted butter. Batter should be on the thin side and very smooth.

Pour the peaches into the baking dish. Pour the batter on top of them. Sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar over the top.

Bake for an hour or so. (A 9x13 pan should take about that long, a smaller pan will need more time.) 10 minutes before it's done (just starting to brown), take out the pan and sprinkle another tablespoon or two of sugar or so over the top. You want it to be crunchy, people.

When it reaches golden brown status and smells amazing, you have yourself a peach cobbler! Awesome! Smother with ice cream.

Monday, July 12, 2010

all ears

It was a mere 6 months ago when I decided to start posting every week. It was partly for you, reader, to be reassured that you could come here every week and hopefully gain a new little tidbit to chew on and hopefully cook or bake yourself. It was also for me, as I hoped I would be motivated to try new things, establish a writing routine, improve my baking and photography skills. I think these things have occurred in middling amounts, but I bet there is so much more out there. However, at this moment...

I feel stuck.

It's not that I lack delicious things in my life. Rather, as this "weekend meditation" so thoughtfully put it: blogging about food is tricky sometimes, especially when what you eat is not particularly unique or attached to a meaningful/witty/interesting story. Case in point: I sat down this week to an untold number of heirloom tomato/fresh mozzarella/basil salads (yes, me, the president of the I Hate Salads club). Wonderful? Yes. Blog worthy? Ehh...

Other noteworthy eats from the past week: polishing off the ice cream brownie cupcakes, these scones (in mini form!), a summer squash gratin gone horribly wrong (I blame the pyromanic oven broiler), the best bbq chicken to ever flirt with my lips, Lois the Pie Queen, my very first cup of Philz5 minute pho, fried chicken sandwiches and cookies at Bakesale BettyRemedy coffee, the most potent hot chocolate I've ever experienced at Bittersweet.

Yes, it was all tasty beyond compare (save the burnt-to-a-crisp gratin). But now that I've returned from la la land (aka the Bay Area), I'm jonesing for newness. This is where you come in.

I need your ideas! Tell me about things you want to learn, things you've always wondered about, things that would excite you enough to get you into the kitchen! Tutorials on how to do X? Explanations on topics Y or Z? Your own guest spot? Better photography? (If so, lend me your camera! :) Every suggestion will be, at the very least, seriously considered. I'm all ears, and if you didn't catch this already, I am in desperate need of inspiration (from you)! Help!!

What do you want to see here?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

all of my favorite things! in one!

So. I'm going to get right down to business. Make some brownie batter, grab some ice cream, chop up some chocolate, whip some cream, and make yourself some brownie ice cream cupcakes. Do it. Do it now.

No frou frou talk today. Just the quick and dirty. I want you to make these asap, and yes, I feel like being bossy about it. Tablespoonful of brownie batter in each foil cup. (I used this brownie recipe). Bake till done. Let cool on counter. When cool, stick in freezer. While in freezer, take out whatever ice cream you want to use and put that in the fridge to defrost. When brownie part is pretty cold, fill up the cups with the softened ice cream. Freeze again. Make chocolate ganache: pour 1/4 cup cream, heated to just below boiling over 3/4 cup (4.5 oz) chopped up chocolate, let stand 30 seconds, stir until smooth. Spoon over ice cream cupcakes and return to the freezer yet again. (Oh yes, and don't forget to spread around: otherwise they'll look like some of the Globby McGlobbersons up there.)

This part can all be done ahead. But right before serving: freshly whipped cream Yes, this is necessary.

And stick some raspberries on top. Not quite necessary, but hey. They're in season, it's the country's birthday, and aren't they just so cute?!

Now unwrap. Take the hugest bite you've ever taken because this is going to be good.

You're sooooo welcome.

(Bon Appetit, October 1991 via Joy the Baker. Truth: she has the best ideas always.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

too much of a good thing

is a really, really good thing. Last week combined two of my favorite things: baking and wedding (and baking for a wedding)! Oh, and birthday: the mid-20s have officially arrived, and I'm a little frightened but resolving to deal with it.

Wedding baking part 1: horseshoe palmiers

Yeah, these did not turn out as planned. I need me some Dufour Pastry to make these the proper, buttery way.

Despite the fact that they look like rapidly unraveling butterflies, Sammy wants in all the same.

Here's part 2: mini chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel frosting. Whereas part 1 was mostly failure, part 2 was mostly success, minus the repeat incident of neglecting to add sugar to the chocolate cake. Twice in four months?! Someone needs to revoke my hypothetical chocolate cupcake baking license. At any rate, batch #2 turned out just fine, and the salted caramel frosting was super yummy salty-sweet goodness.

Mascarpone brownies also emerged from the oven this week, as did berry buttermilk cake and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. What can I say? When baking for important events, you want to pull out the very best (which occasionally makes your kitchen look like this)

Surprisingly, the most lauded baked good of the week were these...

Mmmmmhmmmm. These coconut bars hit all the right notes: snappy crust, nutty middle, a wonderfully textured topping. A note: the recipe is from America's Test Kitchen, which means that they've already done all the grunt work for you, tweaking the recipe and such. What's written below is practically perfect in every way. Need I say more?

Coconut Pecan Bars
(adapted slightly from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2010)

Place an oven rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 350. Line a 9x13 pan with foil and spray with Pam (I used the kind that has flour in it)

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (they call for dark; I used light)
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes and chilled

In a food processor, process the flour, sugar, pecans, and salt until the pecans are coarsely ground, 10-15 seconds. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse meal, 10-15 pulses. Press the mixture firmly into the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while you make the topping and middle.

1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded or flaked coconut
1 cup cream of coconut (you can find this in the liquor aisle by the stuff used to make pina coladas)

In a smallish bowl, stir together the shredded coconut and cream of coconut.

2 eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar (again they call for dark; I used light)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Stir in the pecans, then pour the filling over the cooled crust. Dollop spoonfuls of the coconut topping over the top, and attempt to spread it evenly.

Bake until the topping is golden brown, 35-40 minutes. (Inevitably some of it will look kind of patchy and pale, but that's okay. Aim for some dark golden brown patches; that's good enough.) Cool on the same wire rack for 2 hours. Cut into bars and eat!! (These keep remarkably well for a number of days, either at room temperature or in the refrigerator.)

I was especially surprised because I used to hate coconut but I really love it now. Really really. As I referenced in last week's post...don't be surprised if all of a sudden coconut magically appears in your life to solve lots of your problems. The book calls these "dream bars", and for the record...yes, they are dreamy indeed.

Monday, June 21, 2010

fear and loathing in the kitchen

Today I thought I'd talk a little about things that used to scare me.

Frosting cupcakes used to scare me. There is such an intimidating aura built up around them...not for you? Maybe? The fact that I am slightly perfectionistic when it comes to cupcakes could have a little something to do with it. 

But when you plop a huge dollop of frosting on a pretty cupcake...

And then spread it around with an icing spatula...

And then dunk it in coconut...

You're pretty much good to go. 

Then you'll do it again and again and again because it's fun and because people like to eat lime yogurt cupcakes with lime cream cheese frosting. Topped with coconut, of course. Oh, Stephanie from the past...if only you knew what a silly thing it is to fret about cupcakes. When faced with harrowing life questions from now on, I'm going to respond with "coconut". 

What should I be doing with my life? Coconut. What should I wear tomorrow? Coconut. Can I take a nap now? Coconut.

Coconut logic is flawless. 

The last time I wrote about madeleines, I had no camera battery, so showing them to you never happened. I used to loathe making these because they never turned out well. 

But now I can crank them out like an old pro, even early on a Saturday morning. There is no secret, I don't think. Practice is good, extending grace to yourself when mistakes surface is even better. You'll get there!

These cookies freaked me out for a little while as well! They started falling apart a little bit as I was slicing the dough, but a little time spent warming up on the counter should do the trick. Deeply chocolaty and with a salty bite, Dorie's neighbor dubbed these "World Peace Cookies"...he may be on to something here, given that I am sitting here grinning like a fool as I remember how these touch my cookie heart.

World Peace Cookies
(adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder (I used Dutch processed)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
11 tablespoons butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda together.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter until soft and creamy. Add the brown and white sugars, salt, and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes.

Turn off the mixer and dump in the flour mixture. Throw a kitchen towel over the bowl so stuff doesn't go flying everywhere (cocoa powder, while delightful, is unpleasant when inadvertently inhaled) and pulse the mixer maybe 5 times, 1-2 seconds at a time. Take a peek and see if the flour is mostly mixed in.  If so, take the towel off and stir just until the flour disappears. Throw in the chocolate pieces and stir together just briefly.

Turn out the dough onto a surface and gather it into a cohesive ball. Divide in two, then shape each section of dough into a 1 1/2 inch diameter log. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 30 minutes or refrigerate up to 3 days. (You just need the dough to get colder so it'll stay together.)

When you're ready to bake, center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a knife, slice dough logs into 1/2 inch thick cookies. If they start falling apart, you can try to warm the logs with your hands or just let them warm themselves up on the counter. Chocolate bits may fall off the cookies; just pat them back in. 

Place on sheets (you can pack them in close; they don't spread much) and bake one sheet at a time for 10-12 minutes. Let cool on baking rack before digging in; they're truly better at room temperature.

I'm pretty sure some of you out there have your own cookie recipes that could bring about world peace (give or take an errant nation or two)...I'm asking (nicely). Please share! You know mine.