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getting back here

Whew, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

It sure has been hectic on my end. Between a new apartment and a new job and a whole bunch of travel and an asthma-inducing sleep-interrupting cold, I’ve had a hard time getting back here. While out of site (get it?), this little place was never out of mind. Don’t worry – I’ve finally organized my kitchen and I have a queue of recipes and photos just waiting to flit across these pages. The next few pre-Passover days should make up for lost time.

Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt , ready for the oven

So, about that job.

Earlier this year, I started working front of house at Union Square Cafe. Learning in the restaurant that anchors all of Danny Meyer‘s work is a phenomenal experience and I’m punch drunk on the “enlightened hospitality” kool-aid. Perhaps it’s the novelty of a new direction for my life, but even aching feet after long hours in the dining room can’t dampen my spirit, particularly now that I re-invested in what I used to call hospital shoes.

Drop by, say hi. I’ll probably be there welcoming you into what has increasingly become my second home.

Skinned hazelnuts

Eventually, I’m hoping to do a mini-trail in the kitchen, but for now I just pepper Chef Carmen and pastry Chef Sunny with questions. Case in point: this year I’m in charge of our Passover seder desserts. In the past, I’ve made Jess’s chocolate hazelnut mini cakes, substituting margarine for the butter. One year I made a quadruple batch which yielded eleven dozen one-bite cakes. That’s 132 bites that disappeared over the span of a few short days. Wanting to avoid margarine this year, mostly because my restaurant schedule makes it difficult to get to a kosher grocery store, I picked Sunny’s brain for some suggestions. I was thinking coconut oil, but she suggested grapeseed or olive oil. And while we were on the topic, she mentioned that she’ll be making dairy-free, gluten-free macarons and macaroons in the restaurant over Passover. We chatted about different flavors – pistachio? citrus with jam filling? – and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with. More on that when I get the intel.

Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt

I channeled a little Sunny today and tested Jess’s mini-cake recipe with olive oil.

Oh boy!

Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

The olive oil has a more complementary flavor than margarine, letting the dark dark chocolate shine and keeping the bites dense without heft. The hazelnut enhances the chocolate instead of turning the cakes into nutella wannabes, and the sprinkle of salt – well, you can’t go wrong with a little salt. I’ll see what Sunny has to say tomorrow when I bring them in for her to try.

Good night, all. See you back here real soon.

Update 4/9/14: Success – Sunny likes them!

Update 4/12/14: These work with almonds as well, though they’re a little less rich. See below for recipe modification tips.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt 

Adapted from Jess over at Sweet Amandine who turned a flourless chocolate cake from Gourmet into mini cakes. In order to make these non-dairy, I substituted 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil for 1/4 cup butter. Use a mild olive oil – no need for the fancy stuff here – and splurge on chocolate and cocoa. I normally use Callebaut (a mix of 65% and 70%) and on Passover I lean towards Swiss brands – Camille Bloch or Schmerling’s; I heard that Equal Exchange is making fair trade kosher for Passover chocolate bars this year and I plan to seek them out. I used Cacao Barry extra brute (dutched) cocoa (Cacao Barry and Callebaut are marks of the Barry Callebaut company); any high quality 100% pure, unsweetened cocoa powder will do (and doesn’t require special Passover certification).

Jess recommends using a mini muffin pan, but I only one with medium-sized cups (i.e., regular-sized in this day of mega everything). I filled each cup with approximately 2 tablespoons of batter. The cakes freeze well and Jess actually prefers their consistency when frozen and thawed – I agree, so you can prepare these well advance. 

Update 4/12/18: These work with almonds as well, though they’re a little less rich. If you are going to use pre-ground almond (or hazelnut for that matter) flour, measure out 60g which is the same weight as 1/2 cup of whole nuts. If you only have volume measurements, it will be a bit difficult to do this conversion, but I found that if you fluff up the nut flour with a fork, it’s just under 1/2 cup. If you compress the nut flour, it’s a little over 1/4 cup. 

Makes 2 dozen mini cakes

- 6 T olive oil plus extra for greasing
– ½ C unsweetened cocoa powder plus extra for dusting
– ½ C hazelnuts
– 4 oz high quality bittersweet chocolate
– ¾ C sugar
– 3 large eggs
– coarsely ground sea salt or fleur de sel

Prep. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Generously oil a 24-cup mini muffin pan or two 12-cup regular muffin pans. Dust with cocoa powder, tapping the pan to coat all surfaces, and then shake out any excess.

Skin. Toast the hazelnuts in the oven for about 8-10 minutes until fragrant and slightly darkened. Pour them into a container, cover, and shake (see the second photo above) – the agitation will help remove the loose skins. Hold the top on because it may pop off due to the heat of the nuts. Separate the nuts from the skins and allow them to cool fully (I put them in the refrigerator).

Grind. Once they have cooled, grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until fine. Make sure to use quick pulses to avoid making hazelnut butter.

Melt. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt it together with the oil in a large bowl placed over a pot of barely simmering water. Stir until smooth and remove the mixture from the heat.

Whisk. Whisk in the sugar – it will be a little bit grainy. Allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes and then add the eggs and whisk well. Sprinkle the cocoa powder and the ground hazelnuts over the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.

Sprinkle. Pour the batter into the pans, 2 tablespoons per muffin cup, and tap on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Sprinkle with salt.

Bake. Bake for approximately 12 minutes until the cakes have puffed up and the tops have formed a thin crust. Start checking at 10 minutes. Cool in the pans on a rack for five minutes. Slide a thin knife (I use a narrow offset spatula) around each cake to help nudge them out of the pan. As they cool, the cakes will fall a little bit. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

in which I move

Tulips br

Things you don’t want to hear on the day of  your move:

It’s snowing.

Our truck was hit by a car.

The move ahead of you has the elevator and is running late. And you both must be out by 5 pm. 

new view

Luckily, everything went well and no one was injured in that snow-and-ice-induced fender bender.

I’ve mostly unpacked and am figuring out where everything goes in the kitchen. Also, how the oven – my first convection oven – works. I don’t yet have a place to store my pots and pans, and most of them are piled on my desk which is actually in the kitchen. Which means I’m typing on the sofa. Cooking has been pretty simple. The first non-delivery dinner I “made” was defrosting some lentil soup I had made last month in my own place.

new kitchen

Soon, I hope to be cooking and baking for real. Until then, I give you kale apple salad. On my kitchen counter.

Kale apple salad with cheddar and pecans

Kale apple salad with cheddar and pecans 

Not really a recipe, but one of many variations on the kale/fruit/cheese/nut winning salad combo.

Serves 1

Tear several handfuls of kale (I used curly kale) into bite-sized pieces, discarding the thick ribs (or put them aside to sauté). Use your hands to toss the kale with olive oil and let sit for about an hour until the kale softens and wilts a bit. Lacinato kale will wilt faster. If you don’t have time to wait, microwave the oil-slicked kale for 30 – 60 seconds until bright green.  Slice half an apple into thick julienne slices. Cut aged cheddar into cubes. Toast a handful of chopped pecans. Mix the apple and cheddar with the kale. Add lemon juice (about half the amount of olive oil) and salt. You may need to add a bit more oil. Sprinkle with torn parsley leaves and pecans.

 

apartment 4F

It’s well past midnight and I’m sitting in a boxed-up apartment, unable to finish packing and unable to go to sleep. The bookshelf is empty, the furniture sold or given away, the art propped against the wall. It must sound funny to you that I’m about to wax nostalgic about an apartment that I’ve lived in for a mere handful of months. But I will. And I hope you’ll indulge me.

4F is Julie‘s apartment and has always been a vortex of social gathering. It’s located in a complex of buildings spanning three square blocks and surrounding an outdoor space, now more concrete than green, that we came to call Melrose Place for its centrality to dozens of friend and the high probability of running into one of them on the way home. 4F faces that urban courtyard of sorts and from its fourth floor perch, you can take in the comings and goings. Julie’s place is where we gather for shabbat. For leftovers. For birthday partying. For pre-partying. For hey-I-made-too-much-soup-so-come-over. For I’m-coming-into-town-and-need-a-place-to-crash-tomorrow.

I moved to New York after graduate school knowing no one. 4F is where I made most of my friends.

This time around, after five years in Boston, I took over Julie’s lease for a few months. That was in October. When I carted my suitcases of clothing and boxes of too-heavy pots into 4F with an air of uncertainty about the future – my future – I felt welcomed immediately by the comfort of Julie’s home.

The lease ends tomorrow and Julie came over this morning to pack up more of her stuff. In between knocks on the door and visits from neighbors, I slid a batch of granola into the oven.

Maple pecan granola

I’ve  been slow to jump on the homemade granola bandwagon. That all changed when, just a few days into the new year, I went to dinner at Eleven Madison Park – a  restaurant about as far a cry as you can get from granola’s hippy-dippy connotation of my youth – and they sent me home with a jar of their house-made cereal. The next morning, I showered EMP’s granola over plain yogurt, tasting the embodiment of hospitality as dinner extended to breakfast and the meal continued from the restaurant into my own kitchen. I was hooked.

Maple pecan granola Maple pecan granola

The scent of maple and toasted pecans linger as I continue to sit here – so well past midnight that it’s more morning than night, really. I have a jar of granola ready for Julie to pack up when she comes by tomorrow. I mean today.

As for 4F, it’ll be in good hands. My friend Jessica is moving in later this month.

The old joke goes that that Jews say goodbye without  leaving and I’m no exception, so rather than letting this elegy to an apartment go on and on, I’m gonna ghost.

Maple pecan granola

This recipe is a hybrid of  Eleven Madison Park’s granola and Megan Gordon’s general granola guidelines. The flavors are inspired by the most breakfast-y scones I’ve ever made. I recommend throwing a big handful atop a bowl of plain Greek yogurt drizzled with maple syrup. Also, it’s not so bad with vanilla ice cream. Just in case you were wondering.

There is a fair amount of salt in my granola, which may not suit everyone’s taste, so I’d suggest starting with only 1 teaspoon for your first batch. If you like your granola clumpy, don’t stir it while it’s cooking. And if you like it really clumpy, add an egg white to better bind everything together. 

Makes about 6 cups

- 3 C rolled oats

- 1 ½ C chopped pecans

- ½ C sliced almonds

- ½ C pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

- 2 T flax seeds (mix of dark and light)

- 1 – 1 ½ t salt

- ⅓ C brown sugar

- ½ C maple syrup (Grade B)

- ⅓ C olive oil

Prep. Preheat oven to 300ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, nuts, and seeds.

Warm. In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat.

Mix again. Fold the liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.

Bake. Spread the granola in a thin layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 35-40 minutes, checking and stirring the granola every 10-15 minutes. It’s ready when the oats have darkened to a golden brown and the mixture is no longer sticky. As the granola cools, it will harden.

Store. Allow the granola to cool to room temperature and transfer to an air-tight container. It should keep for about 10 days.

Today, we’re taking a short trip back in time. And forward in time.

When I made my first tentative steps towards moving back to New York, I spent a lot of time feeling around. Where did I want to live? Two short Brooklyn sublets and I decided to return to my trusty old Upper West Side neighborhood. (Exploring Park Slope and the neighborhood was fun, but I just felt too far from my posse of friends). Where did I want to work? What did I want to do? Those questions are much harder and I’m still working them out.

But one of the best experiences I’m having is working with Einat Admony, chef and owner of Balaboosta and Taïm. I first saw Einat on Chopped years ago and a few months later found myself spending a lot of time in the West Village just a few blocks from her first falafel bar. Aside from the crispy green falafel repeatedly voted as best of New York, Taïm’s fries with saffron aioli are divine. Fast forward to last year, right around this time, when I finally met Einat at a cooking class up in Boston. When she asked for volunteers, I (of course) jumped in to help grill and dress and plate. We chatted after class and a few months later she invited me to her birthday party.

Not surprisingly, when I moved to New York, she was one of the first people I called as I was getting my bearings. I started working alongside her, writing and photographing recipes (like this grilled eggplant with Asian tahini sauce) and completing other special projects.

Einat typically works out of the restaurant, riding in from Brooklyn on her pink Vespa. A white helmet parked on the windowsill is a sure sign that she or her husband and business partner Stefan is inside. The round table in the back is where we set up camp. It’s typically scattered with Macs, papers, and menus. Guy, Balaboosta’s Executive Chef and Einat’s close friend, might bring out 3 spoons and a small bowl filled with sauce, the spoons superfluous as we each stick in a pinky to taste. It needs something – more anchovy? a squeeze of lemon? And then we improve it until it’s just right.

I love spending full days observing and sometimes participating in the lifecycle of a day in a restaurant from pre-service to post-service and everything in between. My favorite part of those days is seeing the goings on behind the scenes.

Bala chairs in the morning

Bala Einat phone tryptich

Taim Mobile 2

On Mondays, someone climbs up the ladder to write the weekly specials in chalk on the blackboard. Then the team, forks in hands, gathers around that table in the back and we’re introduced to these seasonal dishes developed in the kitchen only hours earlier. Chef presents each dish and explains its ingredients and preparation. We dig in, some scooping up a bit of everything in one bite, others dissecting piece by piece to better understand how everything fits together. We discuss how it tastes, what drinks would pair well, how to describe it to diners.

I treasure these restaurant days and I think this is the direction my new life might be headed.

So, it’s fitting that the first real thing I cooked when I came to New York was a soup from Einat’s cookbook Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love, released late last year. I cherish this cookbook – you can read more about it here – and have been cooking my way through it, recreate some of my restaurant favorites. When a particularly cold spell drifted through the air in mid-October, I made soup.

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta)

No surprise that it’s a butternut squash soup – I tend to make a new one each winter (well, except for the winter of 2010/2011 which had a lot of travel and only one soup, mushroom). This one starts with a classic mirepoix of carrots, onions, and celery and is flavored with saffron and thyme. What really makes it special though is a dollop of thickened yogurt sprinkled with za’atar, a spice mix containing hyssop, wild relative of thyme. These finishing touches really bring everything together.

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta)

Before we get to the recipe, here are a few articles that I’ve recently read that I think you might enjoy.

Artisanal toast? Yes, according to this article. Less about food, more about people.

From the first of the year, Jacques Pépin’s recipe for onion soup without beef stock, a sure hangover cure.

For once, the hospital industry may be a model for Wall Street as companies start to limit working hours. But the “I worked that many hours, so you should work that many hours” mentality is hard to break down no matter where you are.

Also, here’s a glimpse of the area between my bed and the window that I use for photo shoots. So you can have a behind-the-scene glimpse at my work too.

Butternut squash and saffron soup (Einat Admony/Balaboosta) - taking a step back

Butternut Squash and Saffron Soup with Za’atar

Adapted from Einat Admon’s Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love. Einat calls this soup “marak ketumim,” orange soup. Don’s skip the Greek yogurt (though you can use sour cream instead) and za’atar which contains hyssop and complements the thyme in the soup.

Serves 8 – 10

- 1 medium yellow onion

- 1 large leek

- 8 cloves garlic

- 5 pounds butternut squash

- 5 large carrots

- 5 celery ribs

- 1/4 C olive oil

- 1/4 C sugar

- 1 T kosher salt

- 2 t freshly ground pepper

- 8-10 C water

- 3 fresh thyme sprigs

- 1 fresh rosemary sprig

- pinch of saffron threads

- Greek yogurt

- Za’atar seasoning

Prep. Finely chop the onion, leek, garlic. Peel the squash and cut into 1/2-inch chunks. Peel the carrots and cut them and the celery into 1/4-inch pieces.

Saute. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, about 7 minutes. If the edges of the onion turn deep brown, no worries  – it will give the soup even more flavor. Add the leek and garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the squash, carrots, and celery. Place a lid on the pot and allow the vegetables to cook for 20 minutes.

Stir. Add the sugar, salt, pepper, 8 cups of water, thyme, rosemary, and saffron. Stir to combine all the seasonings and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer until all the vegetables are so soft that you can press down on them with a spoon, about 30 minutes. If the soup is too thick, add up to 2 more cups of water as it cooks.

Puree. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the soup to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the stems from the thyme and rosemary. Puree the soup directly in the pot using an immersion blender or in small batches in a blender.

Serve. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then transfer the soup to another pot and reheat slowly before serving. Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and add a dollop of Greek yogurt on top and a generous sprinkling of za’atar.

It’s just a day into 2014 and I already have a recipe to share. It’s a housewarming recipe, the recipe that finally helped me feel like New York was my new home. Is my new home.

Kitchen Shelves

A few months ago, I subleased my apartment in Cambridge and moved down to New York with no plan other than to follow a dream and see where it takes me. After wandering from temporary apartment to temporary apartment, I landed in a friend’s place to finish out her lease. I slowly moved in, both physically and psychologically. I needed two trips up north to fill the closets and round out the kitchen, and there is still a lot that I’ve left behind. When my father visited just before Thanksgiving, he installed shelves and I finally felt like I had a place to call my own. A place to hang my hat. Well, to hang my pots and pans at least.

I’ve slowly returned to cooking and baking, even adapting (sort of) to not having a dishwasher other than my own two chapped hands. I’ve made soups and vegetables (recipes soon, pinky swear) and have managed to take photos in the small, so very small, area between the bed and the window on a cutting board precariously perched atop a moving box.

Harissa chili

On the last Friday of the year, I invited a crowd for shabbat dinner.

I borrowed a table and extra chairs. Ran to the store for a last-minute scroll of craft paper when I couldn’t find a table cloth. Trimmed roses and, with branches of eucalyptus, arranged them in a stumpy vase. Circled the table with plates and glasses and silverware. Lit candles. And, having prepared everything the day before, relaxed for a few moments before the first knock on the door.

Within minutes, everyone arrived and I made the rounds with introductions. We poured wine, blessed bread and passed bowlfuls of steaming chili. Conversation flowed easily in every direction.

After the last hug goodbye, I sat down on the sofa and drank the last few drops of red right out of the bottle. I smiled and flopped into bed. The dishes could wait.

So long, 2013. You’ve been good to me. 2014, I can’t wait to get to know you.

morning after

Harissa chili

This recipe is adapted from the spicy chili in Einat Admony’s Balaboosta. (More on Einat and her cookbook soon.) To make my life easier, I used cans where I could: canned kidney beans instead of dried, canned tomatoes instead of fresh. I also replaced merguez sausage with lamb because it’s easier to find. The heat in the chili comes from the North African spice paste harissa. Since the spiciness of harissa can vary, use a light touch initially — you can always add more later. I like to serve this on top of wheat berries (I cook them according to these guidelines from the Kitchn), but you can use brown rice, barley, farro, or your favorite grain.

Serves 4-6

 

- 1 lb ground beef

- ½ lb ground lamb

- kosher salt

- freshly ground black pepper

- 3 T olive oil

- 1 ½ C finely chopped yellow onion (about 2 medium)

- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

- 2 T tomato paste

- 1 t sugar

- 1 28-oz can of chopped peeled tomatoes

- 2-3 T harissa (depending on how spicy it is)

- 1 t ground cumin

- ¼ t chipotle powder

- about 4 C water

- 2 15.5-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed well and drained

- 4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Sauté. Heat a large heavy-bottom pot over high heat (no oil) – it’s ready when you drop a small piece of meat in and it sizzles very loudly. If the pot isn’t hot enough, you’ll end up boiling your meat instead of sautéing. Add the beef and lamb to the hot pot and sauté until browned. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Drain off any excess liquid, but leave all the good browned bits. Remove the meat and set aside.

Sauté again. Heat the olive oil in the emptied pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, making sure not to burn it. Stir in the tomato paste and sugar. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of harissa (you can add more later), cumin, chipotle, 2 tablespoons salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and water.

Simmer. Add the beans and bring the chili to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot, and simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours. After the first 30 minutes, taste for spice, stirring in extra harissa if you’d like more of a kick. Check the chili periodically, and if it looks dry, add some more water.

Serve. Scoop into bowls and sprinkle with sliced scallion.

***

I’m sort of in love with these carrots and parsnips (modified from this recipe). I hope you’ll indulge me a couple of photos.

Rainbow carrots and parsnips
Pomegranate-roasted carrots and parsnips

I’ve been called a lot of names, but “a Christmas miracle” is a new one for me.

And yet, there it was last week on my computer screen when I told my cousin Judy that I’d be able to drive out to Pennsylvania for her twenty-fourth annual Christmas Eve party. With geographic distance and a rapidly growing clan came the need for holiday celebrations that once fit around a (very long) table to separate into two. I hadn’t seen Judy’s side of the family in years, and when I walked through the door, a cheer erupted, followed  by hugs and kisses all around and a running squeal from my little cousin Clover.

The family was gathered around the kitchen counter, and someone quickly offered a stool and pushed a glass of wine into my hand. There was a round-robin of catching up until the cries of the kids could no longer be ignored and we all dove under the tree to dig out our gifts. On the pine needle-strewn floor, I found a bag with my name filled with a kaleidoscope of kitchen tools. Over cake, Clover and I assembled glow-in-the-dark necklaces. 

Bedtimes drew near and the crowd thinned out. As we approached midnight, just a few of us remained. Over the last drops of wine, we packed food into containers and neatly fit them into the refrigerator like a 3D Tetris game. And then the real catching up began. There were stories about my father as a kid, about lives reinvented, about family members I’d never had the opportunity to meet. Apparently my great-grandmother Lillian used to watch TV with a blanket around her legs because she didn’t want the anchorman to look up her skirt. Classic. Just classic.

I woke up the next morning in a red and green haze. I hadn’t heard Santa overnight, but I had no problem blaming him for the few  forkfuls of cake that disappeared before I got the coffee brewing. Judy, her husband Michael, and I shared a lazy morning and then I showered (in a tinsel-bedazzled bathroom) and got back in my car to drive home.

lately

Hello, hello!

Yesterday was the shortest day of the year, and today was the warmest it’s been in months. I was driving about this afternoon, popping over to Crown Heights for a little barbecue and a few pretzels, and as I headed home in traffic and the sky darkened into night just a few minutes later than it did yesterday, I shot a few photos.

Here’s to longer days. And more sunshine. 

Manhattan Bridge N train

Apparently, the North Pole is somewhere on the Upper East Side. Where? Not sure.

North Pole

There’s a green market outside my apartment every Friday. You can never have enough apples.

apples

Or cranberry applesauce
cranberry applesauce

And then there’s Cuban artist Alexandre Arrachea‘s No Limits exhibit – The Sherry Netherland in Union Square

Union Square

I’m having fun being back in New York.

ps – Did you notice that it’s snowing on my blog? It starts every year on December first and continues until I’m not sure when. Love it.

pps – Want to make your chocolate chip cookies exactly the way you want them? Here’s a start. To make my own recipe even better (crispy crispy crispy), I should try 100% white sugar, melt the butter, use only baking soda, just barely mix all the ingredients together, and let the dough rest overnight before baking.

kitchen rummaging

A few weeks ago, I found myself face-to-face with my twelve-year-old self.

A friend asked me for a few hours of emergency babysitting, and I rushed over to take care of her son. I checked in on the little guy and, reassured by his rhythmic breathing and his little wrinkled hand wrapped around a blanket, I did what every good babysitter does. I sussed out the snack situation. I set my computer and books down on the sofa and turned to the kitchen to rummage.

The counter was littered with bottles and formula. From the fridge, I grabbed a pear. Sinking my teeth into the crispy fruit to free up my hands, I reached for the cabinet above the sink. Cheerios. I filed the cereal in the back of my mind in case I got desperate.

Then I pulled open the freezer. Jackpot! A ziplock back of chocolate chip cookies. I snuck out one  golden craggy biscuit, carefully re-sealing the bag and returning it to its niche. I lifted the cookie to my teeth and broke off a cold piece with a satisfying snap.

Chocolate chip cookies

And with that one frozen bite, I was transported to the kitchen of my childhood.

I’m not sure when or how it happened, but at one point I took over the cookie-baking duties in my house. With the rare exception of an odd batch of peanut butter cookies with their tell-tale fork-made cross-hatch design or snickerdoodles rolled in cinnamon-sugar and tangy with cream of tartar, chocolate chip cookies were the darling of the Squires household. And I was  happy to comply. Whenever I baked, my chocoholic father showed his appreciation with a trail of crumbs from the cooling rack to his favorite chair in the living room.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe - Betty Crocker

When I made cookies, I was a one-kid production line. For efficiency’s sake, I calculated and jotted down on page 136 of our Betty Crocker cookbook* how much margarine (we didn’t use butter) I needed for a double chocolate chip batch: exactly 5 sticks and 8 teaspoons. We had two ovens – one below the stove, and the other above where most microwaves are installed these days. I used both of the ovens simultaneously, rotating three cookie sheets at a time (the top oven only  had a single rack). I had four sheets to work with, so there was always one dotted with raw dough ready to replace the one the buzzing timer told me was ready. 

I tried to keep everything moving like clockwork, but the cooling process was a bottleneck and my system typically broke down around the ninth dozen when I’d have a backlog of cooling cookies. My father tried to help, grabbing as many plaint, still-warm cookies straight off the sheets as he could.

At the end of the cookie-baking marathon there would be, oh, about 150 cookies. Yup. One-five-zero cookies. Once they were fully cooled, most of them went straight into bags and straight into the freezer where, weeks later, I might find a sweet dozen between packages of frozen broccoli, or behind a carton of sorbet, or in the ice-cube maker. If my father didn’t find them first. 

* I’ve written about chocolate chip cookies in the past here and here, substituting another recipe when I couldn’t find the Betty Crocker one I grew up with. About a year ago, I finally found poor old page-stained, spine-cracked, well-loved Betty while I was rummaging through the pantry at my parents house. Seems I like kitchen rummaging. I scanned the cookie recipe and one for pancakes as well.

Chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe is adapted from page 136 in Better Crocker’s Cookbook, circa well before I was born.

These cookies are really flat and crispy. If you prefer ones that are thicker and chewy, add 1/2 cup of flour and replace half the butter with shortening. I used a mix of milk and dark chocolate chips just to shake things up a bit.

Makes 6-7 dozen

- 1 1/3 C butter, room temperature

- 1 C granulated sugar

- 1 C packed brown sugar

- 2 eggs

- 2 t vanilla

- 3 C all-purpose flour

- 1 t baking soda

- 1 C dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

- 1 C milk chocolate chips

Prep. Preheat oven to 375ºF and position the racks int he top and bottom third of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix. Mix together the room temperature butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla. I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer, but growing up I mixed everything by hand. Stir in the remaining ingredients with a spatula.

Scoop. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls two inches apart on the lined  baking sheet(s). You can use two spoons, a spoon and a finger to nudge the dough onto the sheet, or a small cookie/ice cream scoop. The cookies will spread a lot, so make sure you leave enough room between them.

Bake. Bake in the middle of the oven for 8-10 minutes or until light brown. After the first four minutes, switch the sheets top and bottom and rotate them front to back for even baking.

Cool. Let the cookies cool on parchment on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes until they firm up enough to keep their round shapes. If you try to lift the parchment and the cookies  wrinkle and squish, leave them on the tray for another minute. Slide the parchment off the sheet and allow the cookies to cool until you can easily slide them off the parchment straight onto a cooling rack. If you’re going to freeze the cookies, let them cool completely before slipping them into a zip-top bag. Otherwise you’ll end up with a big frozen cookie lump. Which isn’t always bad thing. If you don’t want to share.

dessert first

Hello, December. Hello, snow.

December snow

Hello, birthday.

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Yup, December is birthday month over here. The official date is the 8th, and my friends and family made this past weekend wonderfully special. There was dinner and a spa and dinner again. And a few more things to come. As I said, it’s birthday month on my blog.

That chocolate cake up there? It’s a birthday cake. But it’s not my birthday cake; it’s Alyson’s. And I made it one year and ten days ago on the dot.

In case  you don’t remember, a few years back, Alyson and I went to Vienna where I dragged her from cafe to cafe in search of the best sachertorte.  From one side of the city to the other, we chased this dense, slightly-dry, not-too-sweet, layered chocolate cake whose richness can only be tempered by a large scoop of whipped cream. 

From the day my plane touched down back in Boston, that sachertorte haunted me. Within days of my return home, I started my search for a recipe. First there was Austrian chef Wolfgang Puck’s version and one from Kaffehaus, a cookbook of cakes from central Europe. Then a high school classmate sent me a German recipe that her husband swears is authentic, and that the daughter of a colleague translated for me. Just before summer, I clipped a recipe from Food & Wine and found this dreamy video of sachertorte being made (watch it if you think chocolate is sexy) and its accompanying recipe.

I tucked away all of the recipes and waited.

As Alyson’s birthday approached, I studied each set of instructions and devised a plan of action. I created a spreadsheet comparing each of the recipes I had collected: quantities of ingredients, number of cake layers, amount of apricot filling. (I know, I know. A spreadsheet? I know.)

Armed with way too much information, I decided to go with the recipe that had the highest bittersweet chocolate-to-sugar ratio, only two layers, and a hefty dose of apricot.

I cooked from sunrise to sunset on the day of Alyson’s birthday. In addition to sachertorte, I banged out challah, a roast, kale salad, and pomegranate carrots.

But here’s the deal. Since the torte was dairy, and dinner was meat, we ate dessert first. And then after dinner, we ate a second dessert.

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PS – I hear that the best sachertorte in NY is at Cafe Sabarsky. Guess where I’ll be later this week. Who wants to join me?

Sachertorte

As I mentioned above, I adapted this cake from five different recipes and most closely followed the one  from the most unlikely of sources. A sachertorte is definitely a special occasion cake: it takes about 4 hours to make (much of it cooking and cooling time) and you have to use and wash your stand mixing bowl three times.

Make sure to serve with barely-sweetened whipped cream. 

Serves 8-10

For the torte:

- 10 oz bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa; I used Callebaut)

- 8 eggs

- 1 C sugar

- 2/3 C unsalted butter, softened

- 2 t vanilla extract

- 1 1/3 C all-purpose flour

- 1 1/2 C apricot preserves (I used Hero brand)

For the chocolate ganache:

- 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

- 8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used Callebaut)

- 2 T light corn syrup

- 1 t vanilla extract

For the whipped cream

- 1 C heavy cream

- 1 t vanilla extract

- 1 1/2 T confectioner’s sugar

Prep. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

Melt. Finely chop the chocolate and melt it in a double boiler (I set a metal  bowl over an inch of water in a pot) over medium-high heat. Set aside.

Separate. Separate the eggs (this is easier to do straight from the fridge).

Beat. Beat the sugar and butter in a stand mixer until creamy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, blending after each addition. Add the vanilla. Fold in the flour and melted chocolate (don’t bother cleaning the bowl you melted the chocolate in; you’ll need to melt some more chocolate later). Transfer the chocolate batter into another bowl, clean and dry the mixer bowl well and then beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold them into the batter in several batches.

Bake. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. (Clean the mixer bowl because you’re going to need it one more time.)

Cool. Let the cake cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes.

Puree. Pour the apricot preserves into a small bowl, microwave them for 10 seconds, and use an immersion blender to smooth into a glaze.

Cut. When the cake is cool, cut it in half crosswise, making two layers.

Spread. Brush the bottom layer with apricot, stack on the second layer, and then brush the whole cake with the rest of the preserves. It should look like this.

Melt (again). Melt the butter in a double boiler over medium-high heat. Finely chop the chocolate and add it with the corn syrup and cook, stirring constantly, until the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let cool. Makes about 1 1/2 cups of ganache.

Pour. Pour the ganache over the cake, smoothing out tops and sides with a spatula. Before the ganache hardens, the cake should look like this.

Cool. Let the cool in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, until set.

Whip. Use a stand mixer to whip together the cream, vanilla, and confectioner’s sugar.

Serve. Serve each slice with a nice scoop of whipped cream.

stuffing

How was your Thanksgiving? Your Hanukkah?

This Thanksgiving, with nine of us around the table, we kept things low-key and didn’t go crazy with the food. I mean, we didn’t even have potatoes, sweet or otherwise.

Now, even with a more streamlined menu, there was still that last-minute scramble as we pulled the turkey out of the oven and realized that we hadn’t cooked the broccoli and brussels sprouts. Actually, we hadn’t even decided how to cook those vegetables. While we let the turkey rest, my mom and I rapidly sliced off florets and halved sprouts, spread them on a few baking sheets, doused with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and popped them into the hot oven. You can’t go wrong with roasting.

We started dinner with soup served in mugs. The mugs don’t match the plates. They don’t even match each other. And not in that hip casual-chic kind of way. I love that we start dinner in mugs. It’s cozy – you can’t help but wrap your hands around the warm ceramic, raise it to your face, and blow on the steaming  soup until it’s cool enough to sip, spoons reserved for scraping out the last few drops.

After the salad was passed around, my cousin Ben slipped out to carve the turkey (he’s a turkey-carving whiz) and I grabbed the vegetables and stuffing out of the oven.

We took a dishwashing break before dessert.

The next day, we had turkey for lunch and dinner.

Cornbread stuffing, apple, celery, herbs

Before we get to the stuffing (you know, just in time to start planning next Thanksgiving), here are a few links and thoughts for the week.

Ever put maple syrup in your coffee? Try it. Thanks for the tip, Adeena.

Paula Wolfert – queen of Mediterranean, Moroccan, and clay pot cooking – talks about Alzheimer’s and staving off its progression with cooking. On starting off every morning  with a hulk-green smoothie, filled with anti-oxidants and ingredients purported to improve cognition, she says, “It is tough going because it’s not delicious, it’s nutritious.  My grandmother told me, during the second world war, we were sitting in the vegetable garden: If you want to win a war, you’ve got to be willing to fight.”

A new-to-me blog, Apt. 2B Baking Co. More photos than words, Yossy Arefi, makes cakes and cookies that make me want to go out and buy pounds and pounds of butter. How about a meyer lemon and grapefruit bundt? Yes, please.

And now, the stuffing.

Cornbread apple stuffing

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Apple and Herb Stuffing for All Seasons. I substituted corn bread (this recipe, which is based on Elisha’s recipe) for the hearty white bread that Deb recommended. I doubled this recipe for Thanksgiving, and our family of nine had enough leftovers for days.  When I reheat the stuffing, I sometimes pour a little liquid over top – water works just fine – to keep it from drying out in the oven (or microwave). 

Make or buy cornbread a day or two in advance if possible so you can pull it apart and dry it out; otherwise, toast it in the oven for 10-15 minutes. If you do want to make your own cornbread, I’ve modified my go-to recipe to reflect the quantities for this stuffing. 

Serves 8-10

- 1 recipe cornbread (below) or 6 cups of cornbread cut or torn into cubes and crumbs (approximately an 8X8 pan)
- 1 large yellow onion
- 2 large stalks celery
– 1 large or 2 small firm, tart tart apples, such as Granny Smith
– 5 T olive oil, divided
- 1 t chopped fresh thyme leaves
- ½ t kosher salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ C roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 3 sage leaves, minced
- 1-2 C turkey, chicken or vegetable stock or broth
- 1 large egg

Dry. Cut or tear the cornbread into small cubes or crumble into large crumbs. Let the bread dry out for a day or two before proceeding, or spread it out in a single layer on a large baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 10-15 minutes until pale golden. Keep your oven on.

Sauté. Finely chop the onion, celery, and apple. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, thyme, salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add celery and cook for 2 more minutes. Then add apple and sauté until a bit tender, another 5 minutes.

Mix. Place dried-out cornbread in a large mixing bowl and scrape contents of the skillet on top. Whisk together egg and 1 cup broth and pour over. Stir in parsley and sage. Dig your hands in and mix everything together. The bread should hold its shape but be wet enough to squish when you squeeze it. If the bread seems a bit dry, pour another half cup of broth over it. If it’s still dry, pour in the last half cup. Let the bread soak for half an hour in the refrigerator.

Bake. Use the last tablespoon of oil to grease a 9-inch square baking dish (or another equivalent pan) . Spoon the bread mix into the dish. If  you toasted the bread earlier, your oven should already be at 350°F; otherwise, turn it on. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until brown on top and no liquid appears if you insert a knife vertically into the center of the stuffing pan and turn it slightly. Serve immediately, or reheat as needed. If you do reheat, you might need to add some extra liquid before popping into the oven for 10-15 minutes. 

(Non-dairy) skillet cornbread

Slightly modified from this recipe, which is based on this recipe

Serves 6-8

- 1 ½ C flour
- 1 ½ C fine cornmeal
- 2 T sugar
- 1 ½ t salt
- 1 ½ t baking powder
¾ C corn kernels (I use frozen and thaw them before use)
- 1 ¼ C water
– 4 T oil (canola or olive), divided
– 2 eggs

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Place a large oven-proof cast-iron skillet on the middle rack.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

Purée. Place the corn, water and 2 tablespoons of oil into a blender (or food processor) and puree for about 2 minutes until it’s smooth and no corn pieces remain. Add the eggs and continue to blend everything together. You’ll end up with a light yellow liquid that’s a bit thicker than whole milk.

Wait. Wait until the oven is hot before adding the wet ingredients to the dry.

Stir. Add the wet ingredients to the dry. Stir until all the ingredients are incorporated (don’t over-mix), scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure you don’t miss any flour.

Swirl. Take the skillet out of the oven (it will be very hot) and pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, swirling so that it coats the bottom and sides of the skillet. Pour the batter into the skillet – is should sizzle as it hits the hot pan.

Bake. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve warm right out of the pan. If you’re making stuffing, let the cornbread completely cool, then cut or crumble into pieces and allow to dry out overnight or in the oven, as detailed above.

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