Tag Archives: baking

Valentine projects

Valentine’s day might be my favorite holiday…in my mind it is, anyway. I can imagine some pretty nice ways to spend it. It doesn’t have the same let down of New Year’s Eve, where when it’s over, you are facing JANUARY. Valentine’s day is looking ahead to spring, maybe with some St Patrick’s, spring break, Easter thrown in there.

You don’t have to buy gifts for so many people like Christmas, and you don’t have to even buy a gift at all. Valentine’s day encourages handmade cards and cookies and stuff! You don’t have to watch any parades, cook any 5 course meals, visit any cemeteries, attend any family picnics, construct any gift baskets, boil any eggs, wear any particular color, drink any particular beverage, or try to find the best place to view fireworks while avoiding mosquitos.

To me, it’s all love and dessert and a little bit of crafts.

You don’t have a significant other, you say? That matters not. You heard me. You don’t have to be in a relationship to enjoy Valentine’s Day. Really! In college, I made frosted sugar cookies for my friends. I sent cards to relatives. I bought little gifts for people who were special to me. I ate chocolate with abandon.

But I realize I’m weird. I know not everyone is going to get on board with my vision. But if you are interested, this is what we got up to this year:

1. We had a valentine-making playdate with my daughter’s friend. It was cute, they were happy to see each other. They ate a lot of strawberries. Not very many valentines were made….


2. I made these little cherry hand pies for dessert. I got a heart-shaped pie mold from Williams-Sonoma a number of years ago, but when I tried making pies with it before, the dough cracked and flaked apart to badly. Last summer, I started experimenting with more flexible doughs for sweet pies and found that using half butter, half cream cheese made a much more elastic dough. It rolls and works like a dream.





3. We went out for sushi, my daughter was a perfect angel, she got little presents from her dad and I, a friend, her grandmother. It was all very sweet. She ate dragon fruit.

4. We came home and had our pies and ice-cream, the little angel went to bed, and her dad and I had some chocolate fondue and watched a movie.

A pretty nice way to spend a February 14th, I’d say.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

On the list of the three best words to ever have existed together, “chocolate chip cookies” might run a very close second to “I love you” and depending on the day, might even eclipse them. They are probably the closest we’ll ever get to the Platonic ideal of a cookie. I could wax poetic about them for a long time, but then we’d never get down to making any. Tragic!

Cookies are a trick of fat and sugar. There are parts of the recipe that matter, and parts that don’t. But the key is to know what kind of cookie you LIKE. I know plenty of people who like hard, flat cookies. I think they are weird and probably secretly hate me. Some people like their cookies totally gooey and practically falling apart. There are ways to make all these preferences work. Unfortunately, it would take a seriously long post indeed to cover them all. So I’m just going lay down my favorite recipe for my favorite interpretation: soft and puffy cookies. But I’ll throw in a few points of variation.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, fresh from the fridge, cut into cubes (if you want a flatter, harder cookie, you can use room temp butter)
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (if you want a darker cookie, you can change the ratio to 3/4 cup brown, 3/4 cup white)

Put these 3 ingredients into a bowl together and stir until almost all the butter is mixed with the sugar. It’s best if you can do this in as few stirs as possible. You can use a Kitchen Aid to do this, but keep the speed really low. You want to keep the batter as cool as possible and with very little air.

Then add:
1 tsp vanilla extract (use the good stuff, not imitation… it helps if you have a Mexican source)
2 eggs

Mix. The batter will look a little like it’s curdled, don’t worry about it.

Add:
2 1/4 cup white all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda

Mix the soda into the flour a little bit before you start stirring all of it into the liquid batter below. Once you get a nice sticky and consistent batter, add your chocolate chips. I use one small package of Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet chips (it’s about 1.5 cups). Stir them in so they are mostly even. Your finished cookie dough should be firm and not greasy or shiny. It should be pretty hard to stir but not clumpy and breaking apart.

Then, preheat your oven to 365 F and put your batter in the fridge. When your oven gets to 365, your batter should be ready to go (unless you have one of those amazing ovens that just snaps to attention, in which case give your batter a few more minutes and know that I’m very jealous).

Wash your hands and then, put your batter in roundish clumps (you do not have to roll them) on your baking sheet. Bake for about 6-10 minutes. You are looking for doneness in the middle and a SLIGHT brown-ness appearing around the bottom edge. These cookies go really fast from done to OVERdone, so don’t get distracted. Cool cookies on a wire rack for about 20 min before putting them in an air tight container

If you like a bit of gooeyness you can leave them a tiny bit underdone and let them sit on the baking sheet for awhile after getting out of the oven.

Troubleshooting: If you notice that your cookies are too runny, you can try adding a little bit more flour before you bake your second batch. Be careful, though, too much flour adding can cause your chocolate chips to start falling out of the batter. If you notice your cookies are getting dark on the bottom but not done on the top, you may want to use a different cookie sheet and/or turn your oven down a little bit. I prefer professional no-nonsense “jelly roll” baking sheets. Those cookie sheets with air in them are really inconsistent and nonstick can be weird too.

And every oven is different, you may have to rotate your cookies 1/2 way through if the ones in the back are getting done faster. Last time I made these cookies for Julia, we were a mile or so above sea level and I think that did some weird things to the recipe too. I think I turned the oven down and added more baking soda, sugar, and refrigerated for awhile longer. One of the only things you CAN’T fix is over-melted butter. Your cookies will be pancakes, adding flour probably won’t help. If you over-soften your butter (like you leave it out too long before you start), it’s best to just put it back in the fridge and start with different, cold butter.

You can keep finished cookie dough in the fridge overnight, if you need to. Just make sure you wrap it up well or even put it in a ziplock. You can also freeze it for a few weeks. It should bake about the same. You will just need to let it get a little warmer so you can work with it, obviously.

Hooray for cookies!

Novembering

So it begins.

I knew summer was over and was really getting into the swing of fall, but now it feels like it’s almost winter. I remember the winter seeming to last forever last year, possibly because I had a newborn and so the cool September and October weather seemed wintery to my protective-maternal side. But I’m bracing myself for the long ride again. Winter around here seems to go on well into April.

The coats and hats and mittens have been unearthed. Close-toed shoes have been newly acquired. There may not be many more days that we can go to the playground for long stretches of time and so I’m already mentally preparing alternatives so that we do not go mad trapped in the house every day. Last winter, my daughter was just a tiny baby so she didn’t care too much about WHERE she was as long as I was there and giving her all my attention. Now, she wants 99% of my attention and a lot to do. Possibly with new friends. Possibly with large areas in which to run around. Also shoes.

On more fun note, I’m thinking about my thanksgiving menu. My mom and her husband are going to come visit us and while they probably do not expect “thanksgiving dinner,” we still have to eat something so I may as well find some fun new recipes to make. I should also mention that planning ahead is practically necessary, since we’ll have mostly vegetarians, one person who cannot eat any dairy, one person who won’t eat anything unhealthy and will probably bring her own quinoa (they have it here, mom, really), and one person who will throw everything on the floor.

The ladies over at Rants from Mommyland call it the “death spiral,” that moment you hit Halloween and watch all your time and energy get sucked into holidays and projects. I guess it hits the parents of school-kids harder. But I agree that there is a definite momentum and the to-do lists get pretty intimidating as November trudges on. I haven’t just started my November to-do list by copying over the 6 as-yet-incomplete things from October and adding 3 more things. And then the toddler deleted my sticky.

Happy November.

A lovely quiche

You know, so many people use pie dishes to make quiches. I much prefer this round cake-pan look. Especially because it can stand on it’s own outside the dish.

Crust:
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cold butter, diced
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 cup cold water

Crumble flour, butter, and salt together until mostly even. Add the water and mix dough with your hands into a ball. Press dough into a nonstick or buttered, round, 6-inch cake-pan (or spring-form pan) until the bottom and sides are covered and mostly even thicknesses. No rolling! No floured counter! Unless you want to…

Quiche Filling:
Break 5 eggs into a bowl and whisk until bubbly. Add a few tablespoons of grated parmesan, a tablespoon of ground pepper, 1 cup of grated cheese (I used mozzarella, but cheddar or many other kinds work), 1/2 cup of steamed spinach, 1/8 cup of whole milk or cream, and a tablespoon of salt. Stir to incorporate. Pour filling into the cake-pan with crust.

Bake at 360 F for about 25-30 min, until set in the center. If you want some nice brown on the top, you can switch to broil for just a few minutes.

Makes a nice breakfast, lunch, or dinner! You don’t have to use spinach, you can use mushrooms (but cook them first) or tomatoes, pretty much whatever you like or have around the kitchen. My daughter was willing to even eat a few bites of this. C’est si bon!

Easy as Pie

Pie, being one of the most wonderful of all earthly delights, is notoriously challenging. For people who don’t bake, it can be intimidating and frustrating when it goes wrong. Even for serious bakers, the work involved in getting it just right, the mess it can create, and the TIME it takes is daunting.

But why should you have to suffer the lack of pie just because you don’t have a lot of extra energy, skill, or time?

I have a solution for you! And it’s as easy as…

1. Make pie dough. Deep breath. It’s going to be easy. 1 cup (1 stick) cold butter. Cut it into smaller pieces into a bowl. Add 1 1/4 cup flour. Crumble these together with a pastry cutter or a fork. When you have something approaching a even crumbly texture and most of your butter is no longer visible, stop. Add 1/8 cup of water. Wash your hands. Get them in there and ball up your dough. At this point, you’ve only done less than 5 min of stuff. Set your dough in the fridge, just in case you get distracted and don’t finish this right away (wrap it in plastic if you know you are going to be awhile). Preheat your oven to 350ºF.

2. Cut up about 4 apples. Don’t peel. They are prettier that way. Cut into cube-ish pieces, but don’t get OCD about it. Top your apple pieces with oh, 1/4 cup sugar, a few teaspoons of cinnamon, a tsp of ground ginger, a tsp of nutmeg, and just a dash of clove. None of this has to be precise. If you like your apples a little more spicy, add more spices. If you like really sweet sticky apples, substitute your white sugar for brown and add a tiny bit more. If you spend more than 2 minutes doing this step, you are crazy.

3. Take a cookie sheet and rub some flour around in the center of it. Get that dough back out and put it on your cookie sheet. Press it with your hands, roll it with a rolling pin, whatever you prefer. Just get it into a reasonably sized raggedy circle-shape so that the dough is mostly even. Dump your apples into the center in a pile. Fold up the edges of the pie dough around your pile and sort of smoosh them together. Yes, I used the word smoosh. Try not to judge me. Add a tiny pat of butter to the top of your pie. If you are feeling fancy, you can brush the edges of your dough with whisked egg white.

4. Put your pie in the oven for like 20-30 min. The dough should be set and no longer squishy and the apples will be soft.

Besides waiting for the baking to happen, you should have only spent about 12 minutes in the kitchen. You do this before dinner and you have pie after dinner! Sure, it’s not a magnificent thing in a dish with little cutout oak leaves and lattice-work. It’s not going to win any prizes down at the fair. BUT. It tastes the same. It’s fast. It’s almost fool-proof (disclaimer: fools not actually tested). It’s amazing with vanilla ice cream and caramel syrup. Rejoice.

You are welcome, Pie Lovers.

Pumpkin Season Part Deux

So I promised a pumpkin masterpiece today…

Gingerbread Pumpkin Mousse Trifle

It’s a showstopper. It’s delicious. It’s actually pretty easy, though there are a lot of steps. It’s not my recipe… all credit to the late, great “Gourmet” Magazine.

Step 1: Gingerbread

2 cups four
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, unsalted, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup mild molasses
3/4 cup milk or buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9×13″ pan lightly and line with aluminum foil leaving a bit of overhang at the ends for lifting purposes, then butter foil. Beat butter with brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg, molasses, and milk. Gently mix in flour, soda, salt, and spices. Then add hot water, just about 1/4 cup. Beat for ~1 minute. Batter may look a little curdled, that’s okay. Spread batter in pan and bake until a toothpick test comes out clean, ~30-40 min. Cool in pan, use foil to lift out the gingerbread and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into ~1 inch cubes and set aside. (I tend to cut off outside the edges so that the cubes all look the same.)

Step 2: Pumpkin Mousse

1 envelope (.25oz) gelatin, unflavored
1/4 cup water
15 oz pumpkin puree
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in a medium saucepan, let soften for 1 minute. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring, until completely dissolved. Whisk gelatin mix with pumpkin, brown sugar, spices, and salt. Beat cream with vanilla until peaks form. It helps if you do this in a chilled metal bowl with a chilled whisk or whisk beater attachment for your electric mixer. Fold whipped cream into pumpkin mix very gently but completely. Set aside in the refrigerator.

Step 3: Whipped Cream

1 cup chilled heavy cream

With your chilled bowl and whisk, beat another cup of whipping cream into stiff peaks. If you like, you can add a few drops of amaretto or whisky to this and a dash of powdered sugar. Set aside.

Step 4: Assemble Trifle

In a glass trifle dish or other similar serving dish, layer the bottom with the gingerbread cubes until they come up about 1/4 of the side of the dish. Then, spoon some of the pumpkin mousse over the cubes, up to 1/2 the dish is full. Then add a small amount of whipped cream around the outside edge. Layer more gingerbread cubes until the dish is 3/4 full. Spoon pumpkin mousse over these until the dish is almost full. Top with whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon.

Keep chilled until serving!

Pumpkin Season!

I don’t know what it is about them, but I just love pumpkins. Maybe it’s their little round bodies, their happy orange-color. To me, they are just the embodiment of fall. It’s such a shame that they are normally relegated to merely Jack o’Lanterns and pie for thanksgiving.

Every year, I try out a new round of pumpkin-recipe experiments. Some are so-so (pumpkin gnocci) and some are Fabulous. I would like to share my top 3 with you! I’ll give you two of them today and one tomorrow.

Pumpkin Cookies

These are SO easy. You can almost memorize the recipe because it’s almost all 1′s and one 2. The cookies are soft, like muffin tops, and great with a little bit of basic sugar glaze (thought I always skip it).

1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup pumpkin
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 dash salt
1 cup oatmeal
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking soda

Combine wet (butter, sugar, pumpkin, egg) ingredients. Combine dry (flour, soda, oats, salt, spices) ingredients. Mix wet and dry together until incorporated. Bake at 350ºF for about 6-10 min.

Pumpkin Pizza

Pizza dough:
Get this started about 1 hr before you want to make your pizzas.

1 (.25 oz) package of active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 cups flour
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Dissolve yeast in warm water, let sit until fluffly ~ 5 minutes. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl, then add yeast mixture and stir well to combine. Dough should ball up. Cover with a damp dishcloth and set in a mildly warm place to rise. Takes about 30 min to double in volume, but you can wait longer if necessary. Put risen dough onto a floured surface and roll into a round or oval pizza crust shape with a rolling pin or even just our hands. Put pizza doughs on a baking sheet and set aside.

Or you can cheat, like me, and use a fluffy pita or other appropriate pre-made bread.

Pumpkin Sauce:
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup pumpkin
1 small boiled potato, mashed up
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves

Caramelized Red Onions:
2 cup of chopped red onion
1 tbsp of butter

Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Add butter and onions. Stir occasionally until just browning. Set aside on very low heat.

Bring to a simmer, thoroughly stir in pumpkin, using an immersion blender if necessary. Simmer for about 20 min until reduced by about 25% and the texture of a sauce or thick soup (which is also good!).
Top your pizza with spoonfuls of pumpkin sauce, until covered. Sprinkle a small amount of shredded mozzerella. Crumble goat cheese until most of the pumpkin is covered. Sprinkle red pepper flakes, just a pinch. Bake at 350ºF for 10-15 min.
Add about a 1/2 cup of warm, caramelized, red onions to the tops of pizzas before serving.

Martha Stewart No More

Trust: It Was Delicious

I used to be somewhat of a foodie (I realize that’s kind of a dirty word now but whatevs). I used to bake cakes, cookies, pizzas and was positively mystified at the use of mixes from a box (“It saves you only like 10 minutes but you lose so much in taste,” I reasoned). I would craft nightly fresh gourmet salads and make my own dressings from scratch. I made fresh ice cream and made fresh cookies and then made fresh ice cream sandwiches.

I subscribed to Bon Apetit and leisurely looked through their recipes and got ideas and then USED THOSE IDEAS. I watched the Food Network and had opinions about the various chef techniques and ingredient selections. I slowly got over my fear of using yeast to make fresh dough (but sadly not over my intimidation of flambeing).

Do you see where I’m going with this?

As you may or may not know, I had a child. The child required and continues to require every second of my attention when I am home from work. The longest stretch of time I have to cook is on a Saturday or Sunday during a nap. That is when I mobilize into action and prioritize speed, ease, quantity of final output and the fewest number of vessels/kitchen implements needed over pretty much anything else. Case in point: yesterday, Rosh Hashanah came and went and despite my fervent desire to bake a honey challah, I totally didn’t.

Not trying to start a pity party, but I totally miss my cooking. More so, I miss the process of leisurely cooking just to see how it would turn out and then looking into my husband’s eyes to gauge his reaction to the final product.

In my head I KNOW that moms who stay at home are insanely busy but in my fantasy, I think that maybe I would have time to devote to this hobby if I wasn’t at work. Please correct me because I’m sure I am totally wrong.

UPDATE: After all the moaning and whining I did on this post, I went to the store, bought some packets of yeast, stuffed my baby into the Ergo and baked 2 Challah loaves.  I will tell you that kneading bread with a toddler strapped to your body is not so much fun, but he was very cute trying to get his little hands into the dough, so it all balanced out in the end.

One of the loaves turned out pretty meh – the recipe’s suggestion to press the raisins into the dough didn’t work out so well since all the raisins basically fell off as the dough rose in the oven). But the other one was truly delicious and gorgeous! High-five for baking instead of bitching!