Friday, October 30, 2009
October is almost over and I can hardly believe it. In the bay area, I feel as though we get cheated out of fall. I love the late summer, I really do. While others are mourning the loss of strawberries and tomatoes, summer fruits are still readily available in California farmers markets. The weather is finally beginning to cool off, but cold days are interspersed with inordinately hot ones and it seems like the seasons can't make up their minds. Erratic weather is a trademark of the bay.
As October comes to a close, it seems as though fall if beginning to end before it starts. Of course there's still November, but after Thanksgiving (after Halloween, really) capitalism kicks in and Christmas is in full swing. I don't know about you, but I just don't feel ready for peppermint and yuletide carols. I'm certainly not ready to say goodbye to pumpkin.
These are my favorite cookies. Seriously. I've shared them with countless people and have never found anyone who doesn't become a little weak in the knees after one bite. They're rich, decadent, and melt in your mouth delicious. The secret is in the frosting. The cookie itself is good, you really can't go wrong with pumpkin and chocolate, but that maple brown butter frosting is to die for. Make these cookies. This weekend. The part of you that is a tiny bit devastated to see autumn go so quickly will thank you.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies with Maple Brown Butter Frosting - Adapted from Bakerella
For the cookie dough:
2 1/4 all purpose flour*
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon**
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 cup (1 and a half sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 1/2 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350. Sift together dry ingredients. Set aside.
In an electric mixer, cream butter. Add sugars and continue beating until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until well incorporated. Add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions of pumpkin. Finish with flour mixture. With a rubber spatula, fold in chocolate chips.
Using a tablespoon, scoop onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes. Makes 3-4 dozen cookies.
For the frosting:
Half a cup (1 stick) of butter (salted is fine, I've found it even works better)
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup***
A few tablespoons of half and half or cream
In a medium bowl, sift sugar. Set aside. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat until brown (will take about 4 or 5 minutes, but will burn quickly. Look for a deep golden-brown color).
Add butter to the sugar. Add maple syrup. Add cream, a few teaspoons at a time, until frosting reaches a smooth, spreadable consistency.
Spread frosting onto cooled cookies and enjoy.
*Can substitute with self rising flour and omit baking powder and salt. Recipe for self rising flour found here.
**Can substitute cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg for 3 tsp. pumpkin pie spice. Recipe for pumpkin pie spice found here.
***USE REAL MAPLE SYRUP. The fake stuff will not due, it turns out rubbery and weird. The original recipe calls for maple extarct which I imagine would work fine too (just use a teaspoon or two, not 1/4 cup). If you have neither, just omit it all together and add more cream.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
The fact that citrus comes into season in the winter never quite sat well with me. To me, citrus screams summer. It's light, cool, refreshing, a perfect treat for hot afternoons. Fall and winter on the other hand invite cinnamon and pears, meat stews and bread pudding. You know, rich and hearty food that will see you through the dead of winter (as I sit in front of a huge bay window, basking in the warm glow of the California sun). Don't get me wrong, I love oranges, lemons, and limes. It's just that citrus and winter seem like strange bedfellows.
Unless citrus is prepared something like this. When I first saw broiled grapefruit in Everyday Food a few years ago, I thought it looked odd. It's not everyday grapefruit, cinnamon, and yogurt are paired together. I promise that once you try this, you'll think they're a match made in heaven.
Start with half a grapefruit and sprinkle some brown sugar on top. Then broil it. The grapefruit will warm through and the brown sugar and juice will slowly caramelize into a thick, syrupy glaze. When the top begins to bubble, take out the grapefruit and gently spoon some plain yogurt on top. Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve. Broiling the fruit brings out it's natural sweetness and paired with creamy yogurt and homey cinnamon broiled grapefruit is just as comforting as a bowl of oatmeal. I must say, broiled grapefruit a breakfast that's absolutely perfect for winter.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Do not make this cake. I mean it. It's nothing but trouble.
It starts out like this: you make an incredibly liquidy cake batter and think it will yield the moistest cake you've ever tasted. And it does, in the end. But as soon as the perfectly baked layers leave the oven, their centers collapse along with your hopes and dreams, like a cake crater. "Don't panic," you think. "I can fix this."
Even after letting the cake cool completely it's still too moist to handle. You gently try to remove it from the cake tins, that you've dutifully buttered and parchment paper lined, only to find that the bottom sticks anyways. You sever the crater walls to level out each layer and make a nice, flat surface. Everything is sticky. Then, using two long spatulas, you slowly, carefully, hoist the cakes onto a baking pan to stick them in the freezer (this makes icing much easier I've tried to ice this cake without and it's a nightmare. "Whew. It can't get worse than this," you reassure yourself.
Wrong. The next day, you whip up the most delicious peanut butter icing you can imagine. You remove the layers from the freezer and begin to assemble. As you stack, you realize that the layers are different sizes even though you baked them in the EXACT SAME CAKE TINS. Bitter and in disbelief, you trim away the excess (odds are this won't happen to you. I think it was just a freak accident caused by the illusive baking gods to make my life miserable). You finish layering, spreading more frosting into the craters that weren't quite evened out, and begin to frost the exterior. Despite your freezing efforts, crumbs and entire chunks of cake break off, even if you're icing as gently as you can. "A crumb layer," you say, doubtfully now after the naive optimism you had last night was shattered. The icing hardly sticks to the cake there are so many crumbs. You keep your head down and power through, adding thicker frosting layers to the parts of the cake that are misshapen. Finally, the frosting is finished.
Okay, things really do get easier now. You pop the cake into the fridge for an hour or so to let the crumb layer set. Then you take it out and add another layer of icing. The frosting goes on smoothing, wiping away the tragedy that was your cake earlier that day. Again, the cake hits the fridge while you prepare the chocolate-peanut butter ganache. It glides over the top of the cake and spills over the sides (with a little encouragement from a butter knife), coating the cake in a velvety finish. One last time into the fridge, so the ganache can set.
You take out the cake later that evening, letting it sit for about a half hour to take the chill off. You slice into it, dense as can be, and cut the thinnest of pieces. You try it. Bliss. Your eyes roll back in your head and your lips curl around the fork and a faint sigh escapes you in utter confectionary ecstasy. It's rich and chocolatey, smooth and indulgent. The grueling process of arriving at this moment melts from your memory and you bask in the glory of what you have created. One thin slice is all you need, this cake knows how to satisfy a sweet tooth in 5 seconds flat.
This is the best chocolate cake ever, hands down. I found it on Sassy Radish and have made it twice. I was left in awe at both the difficulty and the delicious result on both occasions. Don't try is if you're not willing to put every ounce of motivation you could ever muster into it and probably end up curled up in the corner of your kitchen covered in flour and sobbing with self-pity. But if you are, you will be richly rewarded.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
It is remarkably easy to fall into routine. I find myself plodding along, meeting the demands of each day week after week, until I eventually realize I've had the same thing for lunch four days in a row and my life is a monotonous abyss. Don't get be wrong. I am a creature of habit. I find comfort in routine and solace in familiarity. But I've learned that if I challenge my comfort zone, just a tad, the results are almost always gratifying.
I used to be ardently skeptical of quinoa. I thought of quinoa as weird, hippy food that people ate while singing Kumbaya and dancing in long floral skirts around a campfire. When I tried quinoa for the first time in my Co-Op, I thought it tasted like soggy wood chips. Over the past couple months here, I've eaten quinoa many times and believe it or not, have come to really enjoy it. It's nutty and hearty, soft but with a delicate bite. Quinoa can really be something special.
I found this recipe on 101 Cookbooks. When I first saw it, I didn't think it was something I'd go out of my way to make. One afternoon we happened to have all of the ingredients, so I went for it. It was delicious! The broccoli pesto with almonds was creamy and luxurious, and paired with avocado and chili oil, the dish sung. It was a great way to celebrate the versatility of quinoa and stretch my boundaries a bit, campfire songs not included.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Hello fall. It's been awhile. Despite vehemently complaining about the rain after being completely drenched from head to toe today, I'm glad to see you. Don't get me wrong, the late summer has been nice. I've enjoyed the nectarines and tomatoes up until the very last minute. But as the leaves change color and the days get shorter, the markets are filled with buttery squashes and ripened pears and a brisk chill whips through the air, I don't miss it one bit. I cannot tell you how happy I am that you've finally arrived.
Pumpkin Marbled Brownies - Adapted from Martha Stewart
1 stick unsalted butter cut into dime sized cubes, plus more for pan
1 cup chocolate chips
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9x9 inch baking pan, add parchment paper to the bottom, and then butter paper.
Fill a saucepan 1/2 full of water and heat over medium high. When steam is rising from the water, put butter and chocolate in a metal bowl over saucepan and melt, stirring occasionally, until chocolate and better are completely melted and mixture is glossy.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and cayenne pepper. Set aside. In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, meat together eggs, sugar, and vanilla until well incorporated and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
Divide batter evenly between two bowls. In one bowl, add chocolate and mix well to combine. In the other, add pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix well.
Scoop half the chocolate mixture into the pan. Spread evenly. Add half of the pumpkin mixture and spread evenly. Repeat with remaining chocolate followed by remaining pumpkin.
Put brownies in the oven for 3 minutes. Remove and working quickly with a butter knife, swirl mixtures together to create a marbled effect.* Return to oven for 40-50 minutes, or until set (should still be gooey inside). Cool completely and serve to a crowd of ravenous housemates.
*This step is not in the original recipe, however when I tried to swirl the brownie batters after putting them in the pan, I found they did not combine well at all because they were very different textures. I popped them in the oven quickly and let the batter warm up a bit and they swirled just fine. If your two batters are similar consistencies you may not run into this problem.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Let me tell you a tale. A tale of a girl who loved to eat, loved to cook, but most of all loved the feeling of complete serenity that cooking offered her and the ultimate personal validation she felt when she made a delicious dish. A girl who knew that when absolutely everything seemed to be going wrong, cooking would go right. One fatefully tragic day, she lost her culinary skills. She panicked. She felt empty, meaningless, alone. A dark, abysmal void slowly grew, deep in her heart, like black ink consuming a blank sheet of paper and imbuing within its fibers. She thought she was a failure.
Okay so it really wasn't that dramatic. Without going into detail you probably don't care to read, I screwed up a couple of recipes this weekend. I mean really screwed up. I mean some of what I attempted was inedible. Please keep all gasps of disbelief to yourself.
The truth is, I did feel a bit like a failure. Like the one thing I pride myself in being pretty good at was taken away from me. In a place like Berkeley where there are so many intelligent, talented, and gifted people, it is so comforting to feel exceptional at something. When my creamy garlic soup turned into scrambled eggs floating in garlic water, it seemed like that feeling was being ripped apart.
Until today. I came home from a terribly hard midterm in the morning and made potato leek soup. It was slow, it was methodical, and everything worked out just as I had anticipated. The soup was perfect, rich and hearty but with clean, simple flavors. It felt as though the universe was beginning to fall back into place.
I know that my feeling of self-worth cannot be contingent on the food I make. As much as I like to think that cooking is predictable, it really isn't. I think this whole experience taught me that it's not necessarily my cooking that makes me stand out. There are many, many better cooks than I. It's my passion and love for food that makes me special. Sure, there are lots of people passionate about food, but no matter what happens in the kitchen, that passion can't be taken away from me. It's something I'll always identify with, something I'll always cherish.
That doesn't mean I won't feel disappointed when things don't work out the way I hoped or expectations aren't fulfilled, but it does mean that those small failures can't tear me down. The love that I have for food and cooking is far stronger than any culinary disaster. So come on garlic soup. Bring it on.
Potato Leek Soup
1 leek, white and most of the green parts (don't knock the green parts! Yes, they are slightly stringier than the whites, but when sauteed they have a really nice, delicate flavor. Eat 'em!)
4 cups chicken stock
1/4-1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
Cut leeks into small pieces (half moons are fine). Rinse thoroughly and pat dry. In a large pot or dutch oven, melt butter. Add leeks and stir to coat with butter. Sweat leeks until tender but not browned, 10-15 minutes.
While leaks are cooking, peel and cut potatoes into fairly large pieces (about the size of a ping pong ball). Add to leaks and coat with butter. Add chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, 20-30 minutes.
Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth, but still leaving some texture (you can add a bit more stock or water if the soup is too thick). Add cream and parsley and stir in well. Serve garnished with fresh thyme leaves.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
By no means do I have time to write this. Midterms are in full swing and I have spent the weekend doing far more interesting things than studying. It's going to be a long Sunday night.
I have been a chai tea latte addict since I began working at Starbucks. Chai tea is essentially spiced black tea. Spicy, sweet, creamy, and gently caffeinated, chai tea lattes are truly wonderful. When I quit Starbucks, I immediately went through withdrawals. I've since spent an unmentionable amount of money on chai tea lattes, and have been continually disappointed as the milk often wasn't steamed right or the concentration was off or the tea was too sweet of too spicy. It just hasn't been the same.
Last week a housemate of mine found a chai tea syrup (basically concentrated, slightly sweet chai tea that cafes and such use for chai tea lattes. Less liquid, ie syrup, means more milk, which is what a latte is). The smell was what caught me first. It smelled of fall, of exotic spices, of Christmas, of mulled wine. It wafted through the air and into the living room, warm and inviting. I watched her stir the tea into a syrup, anxious for a taste.
I whisked the tea over the stove with milk, quickly to get a frothy foam. Then I tasted. The latte melted in my mouth mouth, the spices hitting every part of my tongue and the sweetness of the honey and vanilla made my eyes roll back with bliss. It was amazing. I have since had a chai tea latte every day. The way I make it is such a departure from the original recipe, as I've been experimenting with other spices and methods. I've found whole spices make a huge difference. The recipe I'm sharing with you is a culmination of personal recipes from my house after a group of us became addicted to these and have been making them nonstop. The syrup is convenient because it's easy to make a lot and use the rest throughout the week. This really is one of the best chai tea lattes I've had and it comes complete with the priceless satifsaction of knowing you made it yourself.
Chai Tea Lattes
6-7 cups water
About 1/2 cup loose leaf black tea
2 cinnamon sticks
6-8 whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger, or a bit or fresh
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 bay leaves
4-6 black peppercorns
3 star anise pods
3-5 tablespoons honey
1-2 tablespoons vanilla
For the syrup:
Boil the water. Add tea and let is steep, about 5 minutes. Reduce to medium heat and add spices. Stir in honey. Stirring constantly, let liquid reduce by about half (maybe more), until it gets a bit thicker and more syrupy. Stir in vanilla. Pour syrup through a colander to catch tea leaves and whole spices, then through a small strainer to get the rest. Syrup keeps for up to a week.
Heat 1 cup (or more, whatever size you want your latte) in medium saucepan over high heat. Add 1/2 cup syrup (or more or less depending on how you like your lattes). Whisk vigorously to make foam (we're replicating the steaming process, so whisk fast!). When latte is nearly boiling, pour latte into a mug and top with foam. Garnish with ground cinnamon.