Basically

Do you remember your first chocolate chip cookie? I don’t mean the one from the grocery store or the one from the bake sale or even the one your granny had waiting for you when you came over. I mean your first chocolate chip cookie. I definitely don’t remember mine, but I’m pretty sure it came from the back of the Toll House chocolate chip bag. I loved baking cookies when I was little, but they were always way worse than the ones I could buy at the store or, even better, the ones that came from a mix so people still gave tiny me the baking credit. This battle over how to really make a good chocolate chip cookie continued into adolescence. My mom tried to teach me, my grandmother tried to teach me. I bet even my sixth grade home economics teacher tried to teach me. I probably made hundreds (thousands?) of cookies, but they all had this weird taste that sang amateur as you bit into their crumbly bodies. I say crumbly because they weren’t crispy like Tate’s and they weren’t thick and chewy like Levain, and they definitely weren’t anything like the massive cookies you get at Bouchon or Jacques Torres that are basically 33% butter, 33% sugar, and 33% chocolate (1% love?).

Back to basics.

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Pie Forever

Pie is easy to make. Anyone can do it. It’s the classic American dessert and you can put basically anything between two crusts and call it pie (see: Waitress, the movie). Unfortunately, I am an utter failure when it comes to “easy” things. I cannot make rice. I over-steam all veggies. If you can think of other “easy” dishes, I’ve definitely screwed them up, and probably multiple times. I’ve been making pies for years. It’s sort-of what my family knows me for – they always expect me to bake up an apple pie for every occasion. My apple pies are delicious. Hideously ugly, sometimes with a too-chewy underbaked crust, and usually with icky pieces of peel hanging around with the “pure” pieces of apple, but delicious.

Drip drip.

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A Call for Comfort [Food]

It’s not hard to deduce from my few posts that much of my initial cooking experience is owed to the blog smittenkitchen. Deb Perelman’s anyone-can-do-this adaptations of recipes from well-known sources eased me into the idea of producing real, edible meals in my very own home. Successes from those recipes gave me enough of an ego boost to host my own seder (gasp!). The only real victim here is my boyfriend (you may know him as my handy kitchen assistant) who was perfectly happy ordering in 6 nights a week, reserving the 7th night for Trader Joe’s amazing 99-cent macaroni and cheese. You know, the one from the box with the little packet of orange powder. Okay also maybe my wallet.

The finished product is spectacularly beautiful, with an orange hue you don’t often get with sticky buns.

To get to the point – I serendipitously happened upon the BAKED shop in Red Hook, Brooklyn around the same time this pumpkin cinnamon roll recipe popped up on smittenkitchen. It felt a little bit (a lot a bit) like fate, and it was probably less than 24 hours later that I ordered the BAKED: Elements cookbook from that site I sometimes refer to. Of course, having the recipe (and two versions at that) is only the beginning. Months went by without any legitimate reason to actually make these buns. I hardly ever kept my pantry full of specialty goods like pumpkin, bread flour, or whole milk (I suppose nobody keeps milk in the pantry, unless it’s that new-fangled ultra pasteurized stuff, which I am skeptical of). I can’t even believe I used to consider those “specialty.” I mean, really, I get anxious now when there isn’t pumpkin in my pantry, right alongside shelf-stable cartons of cream. Regardless, it wasn’t until life got a bit more interesting (if you want to put it that way) that I decided to finally spend a good few hours learning some new techniques and making something I’d be able to indulge in as days upon days continue to unfold. A true comfort food emerges. As a side note, I also made ice cream (technically malted frozen custard with chopped hazelnuts. Yes, you want some.). Next week calls for chocolate cake (so stay tuned).

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Under Pressure

In the spirit of the last few posts, tonight I’ll be going into a bit of minor detail on how to deal with a pressure cooker when making Indian style lentils. My household recently acquired one, after many weeks of deliberation over the huge range of styles, sizes, and brands. We were finally able to bust it out tonight and give it a spin. Luckily, it didn’t actually do any spinning, but we did duck for cover just in case.

Here is a picture of carrots, since it was requested of me to not include the picture of someone literally ducking for cover. I don’t like carrots, unless they’re candied, in pancakes, or, apparently, highly pressurized.

Our recipe for Curried Lentils came from a book we found at the NY Public Library called The Easy Pressure Cooker Cookbook. The ingredients were simple:
2 cups lentils (we used green)
1 cup coconut milk (we used light)
1 cup stock (we used vegetable)
2 tsp. madras curry powder (we used “hot curry” powder)
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 tbsp oil (we used olive)

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aux Anything

There comes a time when a young lady needs to graduate from cakes and cookies and move on to more exciting endeavors, like pastries and breads (or a convenient combination of the two, as this post demonstrates). I’ve always wanted to make Martha Stewart’s Babka recipe, but jumping right into one of the most complicated (and expensive!) yeast cakes just didn’t fit my rational personality. The solution- a brioche recipe from Joanne Chang’s FLOUR cookbook. This recipe is in no way quick. I started it on a Friday and didn’t totally finish the dealings until the following Sunday– as in, over a week later. The entire experience brought immense joy and satisfaction into my kitchen, and according to this blog’s owner, the brioche aux chocolate that came out of the big mess was “the best thing [she] ever tasted.” This blog post is meant to offer some beginner warnings for those of you thinking of trying this out. I have absolutely no natural baking skills- so every success of mine is a true wonder and thanks to a detailed recipe. Hopefully, other amateurs can learn from my mistakes.

Everything should start with your basic butter foundation.

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The Paschal Yam

I don’t know whether you throw a seder, make a seder, host a seder, or just plain have it, but yesterday, I created my very own out of nothingness. As is the tradition with Jewish holiday meals, you have to spend at least two full days cooking, and they need to be dishes like kugel, soup, and some sort of a roast. And there should probably be a bottle of wine for every two people, since the seder guide (Haggadah) commands that each person drinks four cups of wine, at the specified point, over the course of one meal. Four cups, unless of course you accidentally drink the second cup when you were supposed to just hold it up and say a blessing, and then you drink five cups, which is exactly what my 29-year-old brother did, and he ended up lying on the couch asking my mom for a ride to his friend’s house like some sort of drunk adolescent.

The traditional seder, in brief.

The traditional seder, in brief.

So I made a seder. I say “made” because it really did involve lots of creations- cooking, setting a table, deciding on our own style of seder plate arrangement, creating the flow and ambiance of the seder, etc. This is a cooking blog, however, so I’ll stick to the food creations, mostly. I spent about a week figuring out my menu. I knew there had to be matzo ball soup, sans chicken. I knew there had to be wine. I knew there had to be more matzo than anyone could really want. But that’s basically where it ended. How does one go about deciding what to feed people on this night that is different from all other nights? I started by taking the dish that I loved most from my past- a Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette (with gruyere and sage) from Smitten Kitchen. I removed the crust and instead put the dish on top of a bed of quinoa. Since I have a vegetarian household, that dish was my “roast” which was okay, since the squash was technically roasted. Once I had my main course set, I felt like some sort of appetizer and side dish were necessary, but I kept being drawn to dishes that called for cream and lots of butter and other heavy, way-too-filling items. I thought mini crustless quiches would work, but that would totally have competed with the squash.  Then I wanted something with artichokes, but that never really got anywhere. Sweet potatoes are a common dish, so I was going to make whipped sweet potatoes. But again, so heavy and filled with fat, whereas I needed people to be able to stuff themselves on all my dishes and not get weighed down by just one. Continue reading

The Most Exciting of Days, and a Gratin

Hi! I’m back for another round of guest-blogging!

At the time of writing this post, I am pretty confident that my endorphin high is only just beginning to simmer down. 12 hours before writing this post, at 6:45am, I was standing outside in nothing but meager running clothes, in below-freezing temperatures, pre-sunrise, waiting with 15,000 other people for the NYC Half Marathon to begin. I cannot describe to you how incredibly cold we all were. One girl asked “is this what the Titanic was like?” I would imagine not, but damn was it cold. Shortly after that, I was literally leaping down the streets of Times Square and slapping the hands of small children cheering from the sidewalks (and then the hand of a fireman standing in the middle of a tunnel below battery park, cheering like it was his job, which it may actually have been at the moment). It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. And before my training officially ends and I return to eating like the health freak that I am, I figured- why not make one of the few dishes that is covered in cheese, cream, and caramelized onions!

Lots of preparation required. I hope you have a few good knives.

Lots of preparation required. I hope you have a few good knives.

I recently purchased Vegetarian Suppers by Deborah Madison (she wrote the ever-popular Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone) and have gone through most of my yellow post-it notes on all the recipes I must make. This is my first recipe, and I was quite pleased with how clear the directions were (for the most part). Last weekend, Julie and I made an onion tart, and I discovered that there is a whole category of technically-for-dinner dishes that are just smothered in cheese and cream! This will be the death of me, it will. Anyway, this Sweet Potato Gratin with Onions and Sage really made me sweat in the kitchen. There’s a lot of chopping and slicing and grating and boiling and sautéing before you get to put it all together. It’s definitely not a recipe I’d recommend for a weeknight, unless you prepare all your ingredients on day one, and assemble on day two (probably not a great way to go about things). I would imagine it could be a great crowd pleaser at a small dinner party, as it is supposed to serve about 4 and looks/sounds quite intricate and fancy.

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I'm not a fan of boiling veggies, since you lose some nutrients. But considering the intense bad-for-you-ness of the dish overall, I just figured screw it.

I’m not a fan of boiling veggies, since you lose some nutrients. But considering the intense bad-for-you-ness of the dish overall, I just figured screw it.

In addition to the 13.1 mile endorphin rush that even made grating cheese seem not that bad, this cooking adventure made me happy to find a way to showcase my brand new, incredibly old milk-glass Pyrex cinderella mixing bowls. They were the perfects sizes for arranging all my ingredients as I prepared them, and I was able to bake the whole gratin right in the largest of the bowls. It was all fancy and showy, especially considering I was only cooking this for me and the boy. But alas, after slicing the sweet potato, sautéing the chopped onion with the sage, chopping parsley with some garlic, and finally boiling the sweet potatoes for just 1 minute, the assembly seemed very simple and anticlimactic. I mixed all the ingredients (save for cream and cheese), then put a third in the bottom of the lightly oiled dish. On top of that, half the cheese. Then more of the potato mixture. Then the other half  of the cheese. Then the rest of the potato mixture. Finally, I grated a bit more cheese on top – the recipe calls for parmesan throughout and on top but I figured I’d just do gruyere all the way through. Finally I poured a mixture of .5c milk and .5c cream, slightly warmed, over the whole thing, before baking it covered for 25 minutes and uncovered for another 25 at 350. Tada! In regard to the finished product – it was good. Definitely very good. But I think I would have enjoyed it just as much if not more without the cream. Just a roasted veggies dish with cheese. Maybe I would have added more cheese to compensate. Also I think butternut squash would do this dish well. Update: after a night in the fridge, the dish is actually even tastier (upon microwave reheating).

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Sweet Potato Gratin with Onion and Sage, ever-so-slightly adapted from Vegetarian Suppers by Deborah Madison

2 tsp oil, for sautéing the onions
1 large onion, chopped into 1/2-inch dice
2 tbsp chopped sage, or 2 tsp dried
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
a large handful of parsley leaves, chopped, with 1 plump garlic clove
3/4 c. Gruyère or smoked mozzarella
freshly grated parmesan (I omitted this, and just put a little more Gruyère on top instead)
1 cup cream or half-and-half

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Before baking.

After baking.

After baking.

Forcella Pizza-Making Class, in brief

Tonight’s blog post is going to be a little bit different. First of all, Hello! I’m back! Second of all, I and the gang were out of our element, if I may say so. We decided to go all crazy on your donkey and take a private pizza-making lesson at Forcella. The chef was offering this perk for a few weeks for free, as long as you paid for the pizza! How could we not try it, right? Unfortunately, not only was MTA hardly running at the time, the fine folks before us went over schedule so we ended up waiting about an hour at our table before anyone even so much as touched a piece of dough. Regardless, for me at least, the excitement tempered the hunger growls and transit nightmare. The pizza-making counter could fit three people max, so I let the rest of my party enjoy themselves with the chef while I thought about the future blog post (omg so meta, right?) and took 300 photographs.

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Don’t be a gentle patter. And notice the extra hands-on help.

As I walk you through our pizza-making experience, I will try to highlight the three most memorable portions of the evening: the Italian and the Italians, the aprons, and the fails. I think it’s important for everyone to know straight out that we were basically being taught how to make pizza by people we could hardly communicate with; although one of them felt pretty confident he could communicate with my lovely BFF4EAE by lightly touching her all over repeatedly.

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No, like this.

After some standard miscommunication in the sink area, my lovely friends had to don the white floury aprons, tie the string behind their back, and get down to business. I mention this only because washing hands and getting on those aprons really was kind of a big deal, if you know what I mean (and I’m sure you don’t. But it was).

But then, of course, there was the business to attend to. First the dough had to be removed from the container filled with many flattened balls of pizza fetuses. This took about three minutes of intense explanation before everyone could give it a go. Apparently, not that easy, and it didn’t get easier from there. My lovely pizza chefs then had to flatten the dough to release the air bubbles. Some of us may have thought they really had it down pat (no pun intended!), until the actual chef mocked his approach with an all-out dramatic reenactment highlighting his pranciness and soft touch, whereas the dough really requires a heavy palm and no mercy whatsoever. Speaking of no mercy, one of the patted down doughs took a quick hot oil bath before being returned to the counter and topped with all the fixins imaginable: speck, arugula, mozzarella, tomato sauce and, somehow, gorgonzola managed to sneak its way in. Remember the intense language barrier and/or power differential? Yeah, so gorgonzola all around, folks. The other two pizzas were wonderful as well and included such exciting things as truffle oil, shaved something-or-other cheese (parmesan? reggiano?) and an entire bin of mushrooms.

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Fried pizza!

Anyway, long story short, we all made pizza, we all made fools of ourselves, and we all learned almost nothing about the techniques involved in using 1000-degree ovens despite the hands-on instructional time. Good times and good food were had by all. And the subway worked on the way home!

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Harder than it looks.

Hello goodbye

Tomorrow I officially return to my academic cave of solitude. Some people may want to spend their last true day of vacation reading a good book, going on a fancy date, or even watching Star Trek (the one with Patrick, duh) in footie pajamas. Other people, myself included, might consider a trip to Staples and three hours in the kitchen way more relaxing. So that’s what I did, obviously. I also decided to start photographing my food with my fancy camera; it feels totes legit. But this is a food blog, not a life blog. So I should shut the poop up and share with all you five readers out there the wonders of baked ratatouille, courtesy of Deb Perelman’s chatty cookbook.

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Almost everything in this ratatouille belongs on the “Foods I Wouldn’t Have Touched Two Years Ago” list, aka the “Foods I Currently Can’t Live Without” list. Try to tell 23-year-old me to eat a zucchini cooked in onions and I probably would have spit in your face. Or at least wanted to. Ever since I’ve become the proverbial modern woman keeping up both a home and a budding career, however, I’ve realized that one cannot live on macaroni & cheese and chickenless nuggets with ketchup alone. Well, actually, one probably can. But that’s beside the point. Things that were once part of my life (like being a picky eater by trade) are gone, and others have taken their place.

The directions told me to slice the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, red pepper, and onions into very thin slices, about 1/16 of an inch. Without a mandolin, however, this was impossible. I probably got everything down to about 1/8 of an inch and I assure you, everything tasted just fine. Better than fine, actually. Darn delicious, boyfriend-approved.

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Don’t forget to mix it all up before putting your sliced veggies on top.

Have you ever needed something from your freezer right now even though it really needs to defrost for at least 12 hours? Come on, you know it’s happened. Like when you need to make cookies but all your butter’s stiff as…frozen butter? Tonight I tried to microwave my frozen box of strained tomatoes without realizing the inside of the carton was lined with silver something. So I made a fire in my microwave. Pop pop shizzam! Luckily, I was able to salvage 1 cup of strained tomatoes, which I mixed with one thinly sliced sweet onion, 1 tbsp of minced garlic, a bit of salt, 1 tbsp oil, and some’o’that Bohemian Forest Rub I adore so much. Everything went right to the bottom of my oval stoneware.

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I didn’t get any tomato on my white sweater.

The best part about this recipe is that no matter what you do, it’s going to be beautiful. Yellow, green, purple, red all in a spiral of concentric circles. Top it off with more spices and oil, bake for 45-60 min at 350 covered with foil (the last 15 at 425 without the foil to crisp the top) and you’re good to go. I recommend serving it over toasted French bread with ample goat cheese. You really can’t mess this one up.

It’s a little bit like my last meal, right? Starting tomorrow I’ll be neck deep in the messy, muddy, processed-food-filled world of being a slave to academia. Goodbye, cruel world. Thanks for letting me hang out on this blog; it’s been fun, y’all. [Over and out]. Oh, and thanks Deb Perelman, for turning me into someone who knows how to make food.

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