Sunday, November 30, 2008

C is for Cookie

Being a baker, and a graduate of pastry school people often ask me what my favorite dessert is. For a long time I didn't really have an answer, and I wondered if I was a pastry fraud. I thought, and I thought, wanting to say something sophisticated like creme brulee, souffle, mousse, something like that. The truth is, although those are always delicious they are not my favorite. The more I think about it the more I know my favorite dessert is the cookie.

This is why I would like to direct you here. Gourmet Magazine has an adorable little feature right now of their favorite cookies of the seven decades that they have been in print. It's kind of a "best of" layout from the 1940's through the 2000's. Not only do some of the recipes look delicious (like the cheese crescents pictured below), but all the pictures are beautiful and the layout is very fun to explore.

Maybe it will help inspire what to make for your family or give to your friends and neighbors for gifts. I am very excited to try these bizcochitos from the 1970's (also pictured below).

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Now that we've all digested, I can go back to a couple of days ago. And what a day it was! With three chefs in the kitchen with lofty ambitions, one can expect a Thanksgiving menu to be over the top- and it was! Quite literally, actually....we made the entire menu from the Gourmet magazine's "over the top" Thanksgiving, with a few traditional family recipes added

Thanks to Raj (and a little to Gourmet magazine) for all these beautiful photos.

So, we had....

Goat cheese marbles rolled in pecans

Foie gras toasts with Sauternes Gelee'

Smokes sable tartar with marinated beets and watercress

Grandma's rolls

Cranberry apple relish

Wild mushroom bundles with collard greens

Roasted sweet potatoes with fried sage

Brown family stuffing

Pureed parsnips with brussels sprouts leaves

One fantastic turkey

Celery apple granita

Grandma's apple pie

Pumpkin Souffle'

We cooked for three days, and the payoff was worth it

Especially when shared with family

Friday, November 28, 2008

Here to Help YOU!

Yeah, yeah we could talk about Thanksgiving and all the amazingness of the things I stuffed myself with yesterday from mashed parsnips to pumpkin souffle', but really, aren't we all a little full?

So now you are thinking about Christmas gifts, no? Well, I've already shared my wish lists with you, so I've decided to help you with your shopping for others. Maybe there is someone you know who isn't a professional pastry chef or culinary student, but simply into baking. This list is made of my baking essentials that anyone who likes to bake needs in his or her kitchen. Of course things like cookie sheets, cake pans, and measuring cups go without saying, so I'm only going to list things you may not have thought of and things that I use often.

Mini Muffin Pans $17.00. You can make a lot more than mini muffins in these pans (think mini cheesecakes and tarts), and trust me, nothing gets oohs and ahs like tiny foods.

Stainless Offset Spatula $32.oo. I don't think I paid nearly that much for mine, but this one has a lot of good reviews. Anyway, if you can't stomach that price I'm sure a cheaper one would do the job just fine as well.

Paper Loaf Pans 50 cents each. It is pretty even without wrapping it. Also, you can bring a little something to a Christmas party and not worry about having to get your pan back.

Muffin Scoop $19.00. You can buy scoops of all sizes, and they are all very useful. I find the muffin scoop size to be most convenient because it is also the size of an ice cream scoop, and can make those giant cookies that you see in bakeries.

Electronic Scale $39.00. I am constantly using mine, and for more than baking. This is really just a must have for every household. You can use it for weighing mail, and pets, too!

How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson $14.00. My mom bought this for me about six or seven Christmases ago. It is the book that first got me into baking. Most of the recipes are very simple.

Cake Stand $29.95 Every baker needs her (or his) cake stand to display her (or his) creations. There are so many pretty ones out there. Crate and Barrel often has very cute ones like this.

Round Biscuit Cutters $25 for a set. Tres useful for much more than cutting biscuits. Especially for someone who likes making and decorating sugar cookies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's Time!

There are two kinds of people in the world:  1) Those who hear a drink is made from heavy cream, raw eggs, sugar, and spices and want to puke and 2) Those who hear a drink is made from heavy cream, raw eggs, sugar, and spices and can't wait for every December to drink it! I've observed the latter usually love Christmas Musicals as well. I bet you can guess which one I am...

Even the most avid eggnog lover knows that it can become too much extremely fast, so it took me nearly 3 years to try enough eggnogs to have a confident favorite.  I'm going to save you that trouble, and tell you the best 'nogs money can buy!

I need to say first that I had my opinions, but I also looked up a couple of articles online to see what other people had thought. To my surprise, the reviews I read were very similar to mine.

Here are the ones I've tried in order from worst to best:

5. The Singularly Hideous: Silk Soy "Nog" $2.99 a quart.  Ok, really, if you're someone who doesn't eat animal products why in the world would you even have a hankering for eggnog? I suppose that question is irrelevant, because this stuff tastes nothing like it.

4. The Terribly Disappointing: Strauss Family Creamery. $5.25 a quart.  The facts that this egg nog came in an old-timey glass bottle, is from a family business, is raw eggnog, and is pretty darn expensive made me so want this to be delicious.  The honest truth is that it's not plain awful, it's just plain.

3. The "what the heck?": Horizon Organic $3.69 a quart.  I thought this was waaaay too sweet, and coming from a baker, that's really sweet. I was not surprised to find other articles that agreed.  One called it "throat-scorching."

2. The Most Reliable: Alta Dena. Can't remember how much. Luckily, one of the best ones is the cheapest and readily available at most grocery stores.

1. The Favorite: Organic Valley $3.69 a quart.  Ok, the reason I checked other eggnog taste tests is because I was wondering if the organic name was swaying my opinion.  But I now see that I am right.  This is agreed to be the best eggnog you can buy at a store.  They sell it at Whole Foods.

Two other things about eggnog I learned while reading other articles:
- Store bought eggnogs do not mix well with alchohol...
-But they taste great as a replacement for cream in your coffee or tea!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bacon- My New Favorite Health Food!

You may be thinking that I've found some fascinating research about how bacon has some newly discovered antioxidant, super vitamin, or electrolyte. The truth is that bacon is the same old bacon it has always been, pig fat and all.  But don't be disappointed! 

You see, I've always shyed away from bacon, just assuming that it was a bad, unhealthy, fattening piece of food that I did not need in my diet.  After all, one tiny strip is packed with fat.  And then I thought to myself, " tiny strip is packed with fat?"  And you don't need to go to culinary school to know what comes along with fat: flavor. So if a=b and b=c, then one tiny strip is packed with flavor!  

And then when I thought about it more, I decided that bacon is probably one of the world's oldest foods, which always adds food credibility to me.

My mind has been running back to all the recipes I've seen that start with a strip of bacon in the pan to add flavor.  Soups, stews, eggs, but my favorites are vegetables.  Which brings me to by new obsession with bacon. You see, I, unfortunately, do not have a good relationship with greens.  Don't get me wrong, I looove me some broccoli, green beans, even brussels sprouts when done correctly, but leafy greens just don't really turn my crank.  I can do raw spinach, but even then it's a relationship of tolerance.  But add some chopped bacon to a pan and then saute some greens in it, and I am elated.  I can eat spinach, kale, chard, dandelion greens (all those super healthy, super bitter foods), and actually enjoy it!  This is what, to me, makes bacon a health food.

Needless to say that now, especially during these cold months, bacon is new a staple in my household.  Oh, lastly, (I know you've heard this a brazillion times from me now) I need to again point out that no food is a healthy food if it is grown without sunlight smashed against other pigs, living in it's own feces, force fed, and injected with growth hormones and antibiotics. Just a friendly reminder. Now, enjoy your new bacon-healthy lifestyle!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Inside the Culinary Field

Restaurants are businesses, did ya know that? They are just like any other business, trying to cut costs and increase income. A big way that they do this is by using the motto "No Waste!" In other words, no scraps go unused. Vegetable peels and animal bones are used to make stock, cake crumbs can be used for decorations, old berries can be pureed, etc....It's actually a very good habit to use in your own household. And if you are good at managing money, a house can be run like a business also- trying to cut costs and increase income.

How many times have you thrown away half a baguette because it was to stale to eat? As I have mentioned before, my first culinary job was for Whole Foods Market. Every morning we received deliveries of fresh bread from bakeries all over the city. Every night, there was inevitably leftover bread that would not be fresh enough to sell the next day. It wasn't bad or moldy or anything, just not top quality.

So, did you know that putting bread back in the oven softens it up and makes it edible again? Even better, you can do what we did at Whole Foods. The day old bread got smothered with garlic butter, wrapped up, and sold as "garlic bread". With the holidays fast approaching you, yes YOU, can do this too! And you don't have to pay $5 a pound for it like you do at Whole Foods.

So I don't know if I'm breaking some law here, but this is the smaller version of the garlic butter we made at Whole Foods:

Mash up 2 sticks of butter at room temp. Using a garlic press, smash 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, depending on the size and your taste, and mix it in with the butter. Mix in about 2 teaspooons of herbs de provence, and salt and pepper to taste. Cut your leftover (or new) loaf of bread in half long ways, and spread the garlic butter generously on cut sides. Bake at 350 on a baking sheet until the butter is melted and the bread is getting toasty and golden.

And there you have it! You are welcome!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eating My Way Through Portland- Part 3

Sadly, Monday came and it was time to go home....:( But not after a few more hours of shopping and eating!!!

Monday morning(ish) we had our first meal at a Kosher restaurant called Kenny and Zukes. I was a little hesitant when I first walked in. It looked kinda greasy, but with all the $12 sandwiches of a downtown restaurant. Being that it was a Jewish place, Raj ordered a Reuben and I ordered a bagel with nova lox (smoked salmon). So it was greasy, but it was the good kind of greasy- if you know what I mean. The kind that makes you say, "Mmmm, good fries," but you don't get oil all over your fingers, napkins, and clothes after. They also served good tea. And to me, when you really think about it, a good sign of how much a restaurant cares is the quality of its tea.

Well, we left pleasantly full, walked and shopped a little more, and then we were ready to hit the road and get back to reality. On the way out we stopped at Vodoo Doughnuts, which everyone who has ever been to or lived in Portland said that we just had to try, to get a snack for the road. It's one of those hole in the walls that's been all over the food network and travel shows and such because they offer gigantic doughnuts, and also regular donuts with crazy toppings like various cereals, oreo crumbs, and bacon. Although it was fun, I'm a doughnut purist, so I just got a maple bar. I have to hand it to them, I could tell they used real maple and their dough was pretty good. Honestly though, it's really hard to impress me after coming from Seattle, home of Top Pot and Mighty-O.

So, that was our trip in a nutshell! Now that I know how near Portland is, I definitely want to go back and explore more. It's definitely worth it, and, oh, I failed to mention that we saved at least $100 or so in not paying sales tax! I'd say overall I had a great birthday. Thanks, Raj!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Eating My Way Through Portland- Part 2

So, of course our dining itinerary did not end with fried bananas. We still had two days to go!

Sunday only consisted of two major meals for two reasons: 1) We slept through breakfast time, and by the time we were up and ready and to a restaurant it was noon, and 2) We were so stuffed by the end of brunch that there was no way we were eating again until dinner.

So for my Sunday (actual birthday) brunch Raj took me to Mother's Bistro and Bar. Again, a highly popular place- they had two huge dining rooms, but the wait was still 45 minutes! Totally worth the wait, though. I lurved the decor- a little vintage loft like with brick walls, but also full of glamour with gorgeous chandeliers and plush velvet furniture. Just lovely! The service was nice enough, but they were very busy after all. The food was definitely the star of the show. I was craving a waffle, because it was my birthday, dangit! Lo and behold on their specials was a belgian waffle with pear ginger compote. Oooh it was just what I wanted. And the serving was just enough that I was ridiculously full but not stuffed. Raj ordered their famous French Toast, and decided that he was still hungry so he ordered the "Mother's Scramble," and loved every bite of both.

The best part is that it was very reasonably priced. For all our food and a pot of tea we got out of there for $30, which is great when we wanted to stretch our eating dollar to the max but also eat great food.

We spent the afternoon wandering the streets of Portland, shopping, exploring and walking off our huge breakfast so that we would be ready for dinner that night....

My big, special, pull out all the stops birthday dinner was at a restaurant Raj found called Oba - a Latin Fusion place. We both had the prix fixe dinners, and enjoyed every single bite. I was to into my food to recall what Raj had, but I had a Latin Caesar salad, mesquite chicken breast with poblano mashed potatoes, and tres leches pumpkin cake for dessert. Oh, and two pomegranate sangrias (which is uncommon of us, but I'm telling you they were sooo good!). Props to Raj for planning the perfect birthday dinner!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Eating My Way Through Portland

Last weekend was my birthday! And for my birthday gift, my wonderful husband took me down to Portland for the weekend. There are many great things I could share with you about Portland- it was a great city! However, what you care about is food, so let's get on with it. Shall we?

~ Oh, a bit of a housekeeping note: Obviously, I was not around a computer to check my blogs, so I didn't realize the photos of my pokeball cake did not post until recently. Sorry 'bout that. It's fixed now, so you can go back and look~

We both had a lot going on Saturday, so we couldn't leave until about 5 that evening. After a wonderful car riding of catching up on our lives and listening to music, we got to Portland and went straight to the first restaurant on our itinerary. We pulled up about an hour before closing at Apizza Scholls- pizza, obviously. And what a pizza! This pizzeria was highly recommended to us, and were it in Seattle would easily top my pizza list. We both agreed that it was one of the best- if not THEE best pizza we've ever had.

~Another note: We did not bring our camera, so my blogs about Portland are going to be "phono blogs"- that is, blogs where all the pictures came from a cell phone camera.~

We then checked in to Hotel Lucia (which was also recommended to us and was fantastic, by the way!), and ordered dessert room service style. Since it was late, the menu was limited so we went with fried bananas in chocolate sauce. We weren't expecting much, honestly, because usually room service is overpriced and just ordered for the novelty of eating in bed. But wowee! I might have guessed since the hotel's restaurant was Asian Fusion had I thought about it, but I was very surprised to see the bananas were tempura fried! This is definitely something I want to try in the future. Oishi!

Monday, November 10, 2008

A New Find

I love our house, but one sad thing about it is that it's not really close to anything.  If we want to go to a good restaurant, it is almost always a 20 minute drive.  This is one of the downsides to living in an "up and coming" neighborhood.  The positive side is that we are next to another "up and coming" neighborhood (In case you didn't know, Seattle is divided up in to neighborhoods; all distinct little sub-divisions with personalities all their own).  

About five minutes away from out house is a neighborhood called Georgetown.  There are a couple bars, a vegan restaurant, a few little shops and some other things.  Although nothing is too enticing, we have always talked about exploring it since it is so close to us.  Well, necessity is the mother of exploring new restaurants, and we finally got around to this on Friday night when I needed a sandwich at 11:45 pm, but didn't want to go very far and/ or deal with Halloween crowds (by crowds I mean parking).

So exactly six minutes away from our house in Georgetown is a bar called Smarty Pants.  But they don't serve greasy, nasty bar food.  They serve really good sandwiches!  I also got house made potato salad on the side. Let me tell you, I was so excited because not only is this place super close, but I think I might actually prefer these sandwiches over our other favorite sandwich place, Honeyhole (which as good as it is, it's about 25 minutes away, has no parking, and is always crowded).

Now I am inspired to further explore Georgetown and all it may have to offer.  I'll tell you what I find!

Smarty Pants

Airport Way S and Bailey Street

21 and over

Mon - Thur: 11am - 2am
Fri - Sat: 10am - 2am
Fri/Sat/Sun Brunch: 10am - 3pm
Kitchen open until midnight M - Sat.
Closed Sundays after 3pm.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Pastry Chef Things

Have you ever heard of a Pokeball? I hadn't. According to some angelfire website, a Pokeball is "A small red and white round object that will contain a pokemon when it is caught. To catch a Pokemon, first you weaken it and then you throw a Pokeball at it." So how does that become a birthday cake? Like so....

The biggest question I had is how to make a ball shaped cake. I didn't learn that is pastry school. You can buy a half-dome cake pan, bake two, and stick them together. Or you can do what I saw on Ace of Cakes, and make half of the cake a styrofoam ball, and on the top half carve a ball shape. I kinda did my own little mix of everything.

I used red velvet cake for the inside, and frosted it with cream cheese icing. I figured this would make it yummy enough for the fondant toppings, and also look really cute when it was cut into. Below are the photos. Ooohs and aaahs are welcomed. Thank you, thank you.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

My Chili

I think I have brushed on my love for chili in other posts, but in case you didn't catch it: I love chili! There is hardly ever a time between the months of October-April when chili doesn't sound good to me. It's so simple, a one pot dish, and very easy to make! There are also an infinite varieties out there.

And speaking of variety, chili is a very personal dish, indeed. PLEASE, oh please, I hope that you make your own chili and that you don't buy it in a can! It is such an experience, and putting together a pot full of your own favorite ingredients and flavors is a very important practice of meditation and self-awareness.

With that said, my chili preference came from my mother. I don't know if it's the best chili recipe in the world, but it's my choice. To me, it is the way chili is supposed to taste.  As much as I am like my mother I am not a clone, so I have definitely made a few minor adjustments.  I use a different variety of beans, and have added a few more spices.  

So, the recipe uses just about the only two foods I do allow to come from a can- tomatoes and beans.  Of course, it would be healthier and tastier if I crushed the tomatoes and cooked the beans myself, but I say that would definitely take the 'easy' out of the recipe.  And it's pretty healthy and tasty as is.  I usually double the recipe, and use all organic ingredients.

Annika's Chili

1/2 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1 lb ground beef
1-28 ounce can diced tomatoes
1-14 ounce can kidney beans
1-14 ounce can black beans
1-14 ounce can pinto beans
1/2 can tomato paste
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste

Over medium heat saute the onions and garlic in a little bit of oil until clear and tender.  Add the beef and cook until browned.  Add the tomatoes, beans, and tomato paste.  Add the spices, adjusting for your personal taste.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer on low for as long as you can, or better yet let chili sit in the fridge overnight.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Cookie Caucus day 2

Did you vote? I did!

Ok, be honest, how many Democrats made those cookies? That's the beauty about food- it goes beyond party lines and past politics.  So, on the other side, I would highly recommend you conservatives to try out this amazing chocolate chip recipe.  

-A note on the recipe-
It calls for a mixture of cake and bread flours.  If you want to go through this fuss, be my guest, but in pastry school we did experiments with recipes that mixed these flours versus with just AP flour.  The difference? None that we could tell.  So, in conclusion, if you replace both flours with all purpose the cookies out just fine.  Fantastic, even.

New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Jacques Torres

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons

(8 1/2 ounces) cake flour

1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)

Sea salt.

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Cookie Caucus

Well, we all know what's coming tomorrow.....a very important election that could quite literally change the world as we know it.  We've been debating and choosing sides for nearly 2 years now, blah, blah, BLAH! Ok, really, not to take away from the importance of the election tomorrow, but sometimes we need a break! A cookie break, that is.

I know that the time of the caucus is far behind us, but I liked the alliteration in the title.  Over the next two days I am going to post two cookie recipes in honor of the election.  Two delicious, but very different recipes.  One, for the GOP, is Laura Bush's Cowboy Cookies.  The other, for the left wing, comes to us from the New York Times (the most reliable source for the DEMs, am I right?).

So without further ado, for all you right wingest conservative republican McCain voters, here is your

Laura Bush's Cowboy Cookies

3 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

3 sticks butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

3 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cups sweetened flake coconut

2 cups chopped pecans (8 ounces)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in bowl.

In 8-quart bowl, beat butter on medium speed till smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually beat in sugars and continue beating to combine, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each.

Beat in vanilla. Stir in flour mixture until just combined. Add chocolate chips, oats, coconut and pecans.

For each cookie, drop 1/4 cup of dough onto ungreased cookie sheet, spacing 3 inches apart. Bake 17 to 20 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Remove to rack to cool.

Makes 3 dozen large cookies.