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Gingered Chocolate Orange Muffcakes

DESSERT RECIPES- Gingered Chocolate Orange Muffcakes

I love a challenge.

Well, let me preface that by saying maybe not the kind that makes a mathlete’s head whir and spin or even the kind you might see on Survivor.  The other day on Twitter, Linda (aka SaltySeattle) initiated a baking party of Muffcakes, all to be posted on December 27th. While she may not have been the instigator, she piqued my curiosity. I visited Urban Dictionary and found something that reminded me of the jackalope’s elusive thrall in the form of a hybrid baked good.

Muffcake– Not quite a muffin. Not quite a cupcake.

Jackie (aka Jaxies), Mariko (aka TheLittleFoodie), and Angi (aka Riceandwheat) all signed up ala tweet for the challenge. Who was I to not join in?

See this particular Sunday afternoon I had been invited to a holiday party. But this was not just any holiday party. No, this was a bad Christmas sweater party and twist dance-off. Do you see where I’m going with this? Friends shaking their groove things while children jumped from sugar highs. Yes, this was a perfect crowd to introduce to the muffcake.

In fact, Kristen snickered when I told her my contribution to the potluck. Katie commented shortly after I arrived, “Oh, I heard you were bringing them.” You can’t help but smile at the inanity of a word such as muffcake.

And we all know the truth: muffins really could be called cake.

Maybe not in the world of the pastry chef with specific definitions, but let’s face it, muffins probably have more sugar and butter than one really needs on any given morning. Then again this is spoken from someone who delights in a bowl of oatmeal for brekkie.

In church this morning, I considered flavor combinations, rolling them around on my tongue and in my mind. Nothing was quite sticking.

I kept coming back to ginger.

Truth be told, I am a bit of a ginger fiend, so no surprise there. And next came chocolate.

Yes, this was tasting good. I decided to infuse a bit of citrus into my muffcake as it felt both seasonal and getting closer to my beloved orangettes.

Years ago, Olga brought me a hot pink and black box gilded with the word Fauchon on the lid. Tucked inside like sleepy stow-aways were slivers of candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate: the orangette. This flavor combination might possibly be one of my quintessential impressions of Paris. Last year in my two day stint walking the city streets, I made a point to include la Madeleine and a boutique called Fauchon…

Let’s just say they left an indelible mark.

Then it occurred to me to take inspiration from the Orangette herself, Molly as her recipe for Banana Chocolate Chip bread with crystallized ginger baked hearty loaves in my oven just last month. Oh yes, these were going to be muffcakes all-dolled up.

Back to the party.

I toted my muffcakes & my Bittersweet chocolate cake with candied cranberries (for my rather pregnant GF friend Michelle) to the party.

Upon arriving, the revelry had already commenced  and like a good party, every room held a point of intrigue. Travis lounged around in his Christmas onesie which actually suited him more than the Santa outfit he changed into later, his get-up scaring little Soleil and making her cry her way back into her mama’s arms. Soleil had decided after that, she was ready to go home and began blowing air kisses at anyone walking by the couch. But later on she got a chance to twist and that set her aright.

After awhile of mingling through rooms and meandering in and out of conversations, Kristen and Katie started the twist-off. We shook our hips down into our knees, grinding our toes into the ground. Fats Domino mandated it, crooning, “Come on Baby, let’s do the twist.”

Group one stepped aside as groups two and three followed. Lucy, the cat, sometimes poked her head and body out from the kitchen before skedaddling out the back door into the darkened backyard. The final round of the groups’ winners found Sarah the proud recipient of the twist-off plaque.

Katie doesn’t mess around when she’s throwing a shindig. The group thinned out as parents ushered their kids toward bedtime and we finally got a glimpse albeit a brief one of a friend Steve who moved back East.

And the muffcake? Well, let’s just say it was spotted in a few different pockets of the room tonight making mischief and spreading cheer.

 

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Gingered Chocolate Orange Muffcakes

adapted from Orangette

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3 ounces), melted
  • 2 cups A-P flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ginger dark chocolate bar
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup whole-milk plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest

ICING

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

MUFFCAKES:
Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger and cardamom. Add the chocolate, crystallized ginger and whisk well to combine. Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, lightly beat eggs. Then add the yogurt, melted butter, vanilla and orange zest and stir to mix well.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir gently, scraping down the sides as needed until just combined. Do not overmix.

Fill cupcake holders 3/4 full with batter. Bake for 20 minutes and then set to cool.

ICING
Stir together confectioners sugar, corn syrup, cocoa and orange juice in a small bowl until smooth. The consistency will be thin and will glaze your muffcakes nicely.

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Recipes

Silky Butternut Squash Soup

SOUP RECIPES- Silky Butternut Squash Soup

The fall hastened the coming of winter this year. Fall came and went overshadowed by the wedding. I think I missed November altogether this year. Thanksgiving became the whole of the month. Yikes. Month one of being married kept us busy unpacking and making our home from our individual bits.

Winter in San Francisco is rain and chill. Snow doesn’t alight on our city but sometimes if we’re lucky, it caps Mt. Tamalpais. Fall and winter mean soup season has descended. Usually I make at least one pot of Butternut Squash soup. It often changes slightly, but after trying this particular rendition, Nathan exclaimed, “you should share this on the blog.” High praise indeed.

Something about soup is both warming and comforting. It fills the belly and heats you up from the core. Homemade soup is like a hand-written letter waiting for you in the mailbox. It makes you want to rip it open, spoon it up. Served with homemade bread or cornbread finishes the ensemble.

One Saturday morning, ahem the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, the rain was dripping from an all-grey sky. It was a good day to stay home, cook, read and enjoy just being together. I had roasted the butternut squash staring at me from the veggie bowl on our counter the night before. I had been itching to make Butternut Squash soup and that was only made more keen when we had it the night before Thanksgiving at Nathan’s parent’s house. Think of it as bookends to our Thanksgiving celebration.

Nathan came into the kitchen and as I started up the soup, he began playing guitar. The smells of curry scented the air as his strumming set a pace and rhythm. The sizzle of butternut squash in the pot was accented by one song leading into another. This might be one of my favorite Saturdays ever with him. I served this with stuffed peppers and we cozied up in our warm home with the sound of rain slapping the windowpane.

 

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SILKY BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP 

YIELD: 4 servings

  • ½ leek, rinsed and sliced
  • 1 large garlic clove, sliced
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T curry powder
  • ¼ cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cooked butternut squash, roasted & quartered
  • 2 cups chicken stock

Heat the oil in a soup pot and once it’s hot, toss in the leeks and garlic along with the curry powder. Once they’ve browned, add the butternut squash. Simmer for about five minutes and then add the whole milk, whipping cream and chicken stock. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then with your immersion blender, puree the soup. Serve & enjoy.

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Recipes

Mexican Wedding Cookies & a Cookie Swap

DESSERT RECIPES- Mexican Wedding Cookies

Over dinner one night in Oakland, I swapped stories and ideas with Luna. We share a love of tea and as such had decided it would be fun to meet up and bake at my new digs using tea. Weeks and a wedding later, the idea was revisited and began growing until I swapped out the tea baking get-together into a cookie swap.

I had never hosted a cookie swap before.

Seemed simple enough. Invite guests. Check. Have guests bring homemade cookies to swap. Check.

But then it went in many different directions. I’ve been known to put my own spin on the occasional party, such as last year’s Birthday Chili cook-off where guests voted for each other’s chili using print-outs of Willie Nelson and varying degrees of “Willie Likes It”… The year before that, a cupcake decorating party thrown in the spirit of Project Runway, complete with a runway and a backdrop illuminated with the words Project Cupcake. Yup. My spin.

So when I started thinking how to do the Cookie Swap I began tossing around ideas. People walking in and drawing a slip of paper out of a hat and then later looking for their word’s other half (i.e. “candy & cane”). Distributing cookies like a secret santa party where people could exchange the cookies they receive for another person’s.

Nathan and I discussed how to proceed. And we went for simple, straightforward: everyone bring 36 homemade cookies and the recipe to share. Our first Christmas together, we are making traditions as we fashion our lives together. The cookie swap cemented our first party for us to co-host! Nathan’s the ultimate party sidekick.

The guests began arriving. Heather brought homemade Scottish shortbread. She told the story of earning the recipe from her grandmother which entailed baking them with her and then sending her some to make sure they were okay. I loved this and especially the part of her learning through shadowing her grandmother. Family time / cooking time.

Stephanie and I chatted it up at that same dinner in Oakland now several months ago where we talked about her studying linguistics and her mad baking skills. I’m still looking forward to baking macarons with her! She brought and adapted a recipe from David Lebovitz for Meyer Lemon Rosemary Madeleines and Berry Pumpkin Madeleines. The glaze on the Madeleines gave them a delightful crisp and tang of berry or lemon. Yum!

Anita and Mike came bearing several types of cookies. Armed with meringues and her jam thumbprint cookies. We were excited to nibble and nosh because we knew these would be phenomenal. I met Anita at the SOS Bake Sale this year. She single-handedly organized the logistics and bakers for the sale with poise and grace. Her jamprint cookies were a fun take on a wedding cookie with a thumb print filled with TellTale jam Sangria chocolate jam. These reminded me of Mexican cookies with their specific crumb and especially tasted great with a glass of milk.

Irvin and AJ showed up bearing a plastic bin filled to the brim. Irvin has a way of making people laugh in between bites of his creative concoctions. We met originally at the SOS Bake Sale because we were the two people to bring gluten free goodies. He definitely leaves an impression and has quickly become my twitter BFF, my sidekick at food blogger get-togethers and my go-to source for gluten free baking. He baked up Marbleized Lemon and Ginger cookies. The texture was soft with a slight crunch of sugar at the end.

Jen (aka Jeters) showed up bearing Ginger Cranberry Cookies. Jeters recently roasted an entire pig and we talked about how she stealthily did it in a tiny kitchen. Her spunk and spirit make any party more fun. We laughed at a food blogger conference earlier this year as her name was called as the winner of a well outfitted albeit huge oven unit. The Ginger Cranberry cookies were small and bite-sized sweet and spicy morsels. I ate mine with a glass of milk.

We had a great time chatting it up and sitting around telling stories in between the plates of cookies being passed. This was such a great way to celebrate the holidays!

Nathan and I contributed by baking up some Mexican Wedding Cookies.

Here’s the thing. I had every intention of baking some up for the wedding. I told my Mom and Tia that I would be baking up cookies the Sunday evening before the wedding to include in the guest welcome bags. As I got closer to that Sunday, it so didn’t happen. Irvin offered to make some, but I was definitely in the space of overload and began molting ideas, letting them go as fast as they actually occurred to me. It was my way of staying sane. And his offer was beyond nice.

So there really wasn’t any veering from the cookie of choice for the year. I found the recipe at new friend Amber’s blog. She too is from the Southwest and recently posted a recipe of Mexican Wedding Cookies from a Southwest recipe book. That was all I needed to know. I trust her Southwest instincts and it only fit that one food blogger inform this food blogger friend cookie swap.

While this may be my first cookie swap, I’m looking forward to continuing the tradition next year… who doesn’t love starting a new tradition and one imbued with sugar…

DESSERT RECIPES- Mexican Wedding Cookies

 

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MEXICAN WEDDING COOKIES
Found at Bluebonnets and Brownies Adapted from “Mexican Wedding Cookies” in The Tex-Mex Cookbook by Robb Walsh

YIELD: Makes approximately 3 dozen

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. confectioners’ (powdered) sugar plus 1 cup for dusting
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. coarsely chopped pecans
2 1/2 c. all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat butter and 1/2 c. sugar together in a mixer on high until light and fluffy. While still mixing, add in the vanilla, salt, and chopped pecans, and continue until well combined.

Mix in flour by hand, stirring only until combined. Do not overmix or the cookies will be tough.

From dough into crescent shapes (I did this by using a cookie scoop. I’d make a scoop, and then cut the scoop in 1/2 to create half moons), and bake 12-16 minutes until the edges are golden brown.

Allow to cool. Put the rest of the sugar in a large bowl. When the cookies are cool to the touch, place 2-3 at a time into the bowl, and shake to coat with sugar. Once all the cookies are coated once, sift the remaining sugar over the cookies to give a second coating.

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Recipes

Pumpkin Cream Pie

There is so much to be thankful for.

Many kids love the gifts that Christmas brings, but from a young age, I found myself enchanted with Thanksgiving. It quickly became my favorite holiday. This might have had something to do with the food. It might have had something to do with family. It might have had something to do with giving thanks. And on several occasions it had to do with friends from college joining our family table. My aunts regularly hosted the holiday at their different homes and I remember early mornings awoken by the smell of turkey roasting in the oven. Hours sitting at the table and the card games that transpired the evening before with my cousin are delicately carved in my memory too. Then there were the years we had family from Mexico join us, which was such a special occasion. Every year gave me new reasons to look forward to Thanksgiving.

Being a newlywed, we had the delight of venturing up north to be with Nathan’s family on Wednesday night. My second year with them, I have enjoyed my role of sous chef to his mom’s executive chef. Thursday morning, we set a cheerful table with gourds running the gamut of the table’s spine and handwritten table cards with everyone’s names. We set out red wine glasses that sparkled alongside dessert wine glasses. In the kitchen, we prepped Brussels sprouts and rinsed the salted turkey.

Nathan and I took a mid-morning walk around town, taking in the crisp November air that has recently fallen on the Bay Area in the form of a cold snap. Arm-in-arm we traipsed over railroad tracks and past the one open grocery store. We walked past the sun high in the sky illuminating the yellow-bleached ginkgo leaves flapping like small flags in the wind. Our first Thanksgiving as an old married couple was shaping up to be something spectacular.

This year, I had the pleasure of dessert duty and made two pies. I love being responsible for dessert because it’s done ahead of time and gives me time to help out with other items best suited day-of, and as described above. I had seen the Pumpkin Cream Pie recipe on Shutterbean’s blog last week and found it intriguing. Despite my love of pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie has never been one that holds me rapt with attention. I get that it’s a tradition and thus like opportunities to riff on that tradition. I would say this is a keeper of a recipe and of course, leave it to Martha Stewart to get it right. My aunt B’s pecan pie- this is what always brought me to the dessert table. Perhaps it’s because I’m from the Southwest where we name rivers “Nueces” and such, pecans run in our blood. I hunted around online for an acceptable Pecan Pie recipe and happily found the one that will be my go-to from here on out at Simply Recipes. As Elise describes it there, “it’s not too sweet” and while I do love the Pecan Pie, they can sometimes taste cloyingly sweet. Beck’s sister brought a cheesecake with raisin crust which was tasty. As you can see, we had a dearth of treats.

We noshed on hors d’oeuvres of shrimp and rosemary marcona almonds, an array of crackers and a parmesan artichoke heart dip with olive tapenade. We started our festivities sipping leftover champagne from the wedding- as if extending that one party into this celebration- fantastic. One of Nathan’s sister’s prepared a salad with pomegranate seeds and toasted walnuts, dressed in a pomegranate reduction sauce. Onto the bird, her husband skillfully carved it with the help of the iphone. It sat alongside mashed root vegetables with garlic panko breading, a sourdough dried fruit & fig stuffing, a sweet potato banana side dish made famous by Tyler Florence for a reason and our Brussels Sprouts. With a three mushroom gravy and two kinds of cranberry- orange relish and brandied berries, we were set!  Shared with new family and friends, what a feast it was.Their tradition of going around the table and sharing what each person is thankful for after the meal and before dessert is a tradition I look forward to continuing with my family. We wined and dined well into the evening, our time drunk with laughter, stories, jokes and the ribbing of siblings and family members.

When you lose someone you love, pausing to remember those you love who are no longer with you is normal and good. Giving thanks for them is even better. And after you’ve allowed yourself to go there, you can come back to present day thankfulness for people who are still with you. I am incredibly grateful for new family coalescing with my consanguineal.  Our first Thanksgiving married, it remains a day to look forward to. After all,

There is so much to be thankful for.

DESSERT RECIPES- Pumpkin Cream Pie

 

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PUMPKIN CREAM PIE
Adapted from Martha Stewart

FOR THE PUMPKIN CREAM FILLING

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Salt
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin (from one 15-ounce can)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream, whisked to medium peaks
  • Frozen whole wheat pie crust
  • Garnish: freshly grated nutmeg
  1. Bake pie crust.
  2. While pie crust bakes, make the pumpkin cream filling: Bring milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, 1/4 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks with cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl.
  4. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup milk mixture into yolk mixture. Gradually whisk in remaining milk mixture. Return entire mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until bubbling in center, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Immediately whisk in pumpkin. Whisk in butter.
  5. Strain filling through a fine sieve into a clean bowl. Pour into baked pie crust, smoothing the top with an offset spatula. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, top with whipped cream, and garnish with nutmeg.

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Our Pecan Pie

 

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Recipes

Chicken Sausage with Lentils and Salami

SAUSAGE RECIPES- Meaty Lentils

Two weeks before the time my finger would find a circlet of white gold wrapped around it, the chaos and nervous jitters had come and been communicated through. What remained were the small embellishments for the party celebrating a newly cemented us. Weddings often bring people together in unexpected ways and one of the pieces of wisdom I have received this year is if someone reaches out, reach back.

I don’t possess a superwoman complex though I will be the first to admit sometimes you want things done a certain way. Just so. Tie the green ribbon so it faces the front of the wedding program so guests can see words to sing along inside on the back page. I call it detailed. Nathan calls it perfectionist. That’s pretty true too. Going into planning a wedding, I decided to act as if this was the biggest tradeshow, event or party I’d ever planned. It helped a bunch *and saved a mint.* Early on, the devil kept me company in those details I obsessed over and slowly I found them drift away. The details that remained were the ones I knew were manageable with help. As a wise woman told me in grief support group this year, if someone reaches out, reach back.

Nathan’s sister has a way with a pen and when she asked if she could help, I quickly responded. With my workdays at full throttle and the wedding tasks acting as evening projects, I knew whatever I made needed to be quick, filling but also energizing.

Enter chicken sausage with lentils and salami and apple radish relish.

We cut and tied ribbons for the wedding programs in the span of an hour while Nathan’s sister wrote in her elegant script, penning names on all our table place cards. Dinner satisfied and our project was easily completed. I think one of the best things about having people help you is the shared experience. A memory to file away in the memory bank for later. I will remember with fondness Nathan’s sister, all the spools of sage green ribbon and her clever cursive script on mango colored place cards.

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Chicken Sausage with Lentils and Salami

  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 2 ¼ cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 chicken apple sausage
  • 1/4 cup salami

Set the water on high heat. Once it reaches a rolling boil, add the sage, garlic powder, onion powder, and lentils and cover. Turn heat down to simmer for 15 minutes. Don’t add salt yet. While the lentils are cooking, chop the chicken sausage and salami. When you have about five minutes left on the lentils, begin to heat up the sausage in a separate pan. Once the lentils are done and the sausage is cooked, combine in a separate dish with the salami. Serve with a side of brown rice for a hearty dish.

Apple Radish Relish

1 honeycrisp apple, diced
3 radishes, diced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fig vinaigrette
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Dice the apple and radishes. Mix together the fig vinaigrette with Dijon mustard and olive oil. Drizzle vinaigrette over the slaw and toss to combine. Serve atop Meaty Lentils as a slightly sweet, piquant condiment.

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Recipes

Snickerdoodles

The apartment is filled with the aroma of cinnamon and sugar mingling together in the air. Something about this smell is both comforting and reminiscent of childhood. It smells like home. I somehow lucked out, as I was the one who got to move into the apartment before the wedding. Over the past few years and subsequent roommates, I have been lucky to become and remain friends with each of them. As some friends joined us in the heave-ho of boxes and bags from my last apartment, I was somewhat reticent to leave. A page was turning, was I ready to read what comes next?

I traipsed down every night to my former abode the first few weeks to dwell in the familiar, leaving this new world we get to create behind. One evening Nathan came with me and there at Carole’s apartment, we watched the remainder of the Giants game. It’s been a year and one of the best ways I can exclaim what it’s teaching me or what He’s teaching me is to hold things loosely. And tightly while you have them.

I made cookie dough on Sunday afternoon with Kristen and an intention of bagging freshly homebaked cookies for my new-to-me neighbors, but a gas leak and thus non-working oven forced my hand and dough to wait until mid-week. So tonight, I sit in the afterglow of Snickerdoodles scenting this new apartment, this new world that feels very quiet when Nathan is not around. So quiet that my thoughts become ravenous to leap onto the page.

Snickerdoodles, the name alone conjures up a smile, takes me back to a black Baptist church my mom’s friend Dottie belonged to. Sometimes we would meet her on a Sunday morning and all I remember are the crash of the tambourines, my body slumping in the wooden pew and clutching a brown paper bag slightly soiled with butter stains. Dottie’s auntie would bake fresh Snickerdoodles for me when we joined her at church. I always remember being fond of her church. Who doesn’t love a house of joy, a bag of warm cinnamon sugar disks and the melodic rise and fall of song? So, somehow it seemed fitting that these be my first baking foray at the eyrie. If I had her recipe now, it would be below. Instead I purloined one from Smitten Kitchen. Bake and serve for people you love.

DESSERT RECIPES- Snickerdoodles

 

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SNICKERDOODLES

Adapted from Martha Stewart, from Smitten Kitchen

YIELD: Makes three dozen 3 to 4-inch cookies

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 stick or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, plus more if needed
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 400°, with one rack in top third and one rack in bottom third of oven. Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.

Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs, and beat to combine. Add dry ingredients, and beat to combine. At this point, I chilled the dough for an hour (or you can overnight) before scooping it, because I otherwise found it too difficult to scoop into balls and roll but the original recipe doesn’t find this step neccessary.

Once dough has chilled, in a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the ground cinnamon. Use a small ice-cream scoop* to form balls of the dough, and roll in cinnamon sugar. Place about two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are set in center and begin to crack (they will not brown), about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets after five minutes. Transfer the sheets to a wire rack to cool about five minutes before transferring the cookies to the rack. In theory, they can be stored in an airtight container up to one week, but I say good luck wtih that.

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Recipes

Golden Borscht with Potato Crostini

SOUP RECIPES- Golden Borscht with Potato Crostini

It pays to have people in your life who entertain for a living. My friend Katy sings opera and can do a spot on perfect Scottish accent or Russian. I chalk it up to her time studying for a role in Eugene Onegin several years back. Regardless, her Russian accent inspired the nickname Olga, so Olga she remains to me.

Earlier this year, she performed in the Pirates of Penzance. She landed the role of the Pirate Queen so to speak and had great fun wearing ruffles, velvet and a saber on a regular basis. Nathan and I attended a matinee of her performance with the privilege of sitting alongside her parents watching her nursemaid transform into a pirate much later in the performance. She possesses great spirit on the stage and as the case stands for most mezzo-soprano roles, either takes her turn as a nurse, maid or elderly aunt. When the role calls for humor, she gives the audience a rollicking good time.

Summers in San Francisco can be a bit chilly and this one was no exception. I will remember me clad in turtlenecks and coats for the summer of 2010. After Pirates finished, Nathan, Tyler, Olga and I joined her parents at a bistro for a light early supper. Olga ordered borscht as we ordered the goulash to split with salad. I had never before had the occasion to try that bright purple soup. When the gauntlet comes down about what’s for dinner, I can’t say, “Russian!” is usually what pops out of my mouth. A spoonful of her soup was full of dill and a hearty flavor. I found myself intrigued and kind of eyeing that bowl of soup from across the table wondering if I might sneak another taste.

The Pirate Queen herself & parents
Sans pirate makeup
Trying on my best pirate snarl

I love homemade soup. November is beginning to feel chilly in the city and I felt an urge to tackle the borscht myself, giving it a bit of a different spin. Nathan is a good sport as he puts up with my kitchen experiments and joins me in their execution. Tonight, and really all last week, the desire for a good hearty beet soup put me in an expectant mood. This one does not disappoint; I heartily suggest eating the crostini and soup in the same bites.

 

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GOLDEN BORSCHT WITH POTATO CROSTINI

adapted from the Culinary Institute of America’s “Gourmet Meals in Minutes

SOUP INGREDIENTS

  • 2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed, thinly sliced
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 head savoy cabbage, shredded
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 3 golden beets, peeled, grated
  • 1/4 cup dill, minced
  • 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or as needed

CROSTINI INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium red fingerling potatoes, sliced thinly
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 T of sour cream
  • 2 T of plain yogurt
  • 2 T dill, minced
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • Cracked black pepper & kosher salt to taste

SOUP PREPARATION
Preheat the oven to 350. Bring the broth to a simmer while you peel and prepare the vegetables. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat with the oil. Add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender and golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme.

Add the celery, sweet potatoes, carrot, leek, and cabbage. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are slightly tender, about 8 minutes.

Add the broth and the bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 10 minutes before grating the beets directly into the soup. Separate the third beet and grate into a separate small pot of boiling water where you will blanch the shredded beet and keep it separate. Simmer the soup, partially covered, until the soup is flavorful and the vegetables are completely tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the dill. Add the red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. With your immersion blender, pulse the soup to the desired consistency. We kept ours a bit chunky. Drain the separated shredded beet and garnish in each bowl for a bit more crunch. Garnish the soup with the potato crostini and serve. We found the perfect bite included a bit of the potato, the yogurt dill dollop on top and soup.

CROSTINI PREPARATION

Place the thinly sliced potatoes on a cookie sheet. Brush the tops of the potatoes with the olive oil. Sprinkle some kosher salt on top of them. Stick them in the oven to cook for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Afterwards, pull the cookie sheet out and flip the potato crostini. Bake for another 5 minutes or until golden brown. While the crostini are baking, in a small bowl, mix together the sour cream, plain yogurt, dill, garlic powder, onion powder and a pinch of salt. Place them on a paper towel lined plate to catch any excess oil. Place a small dollop of the yogurt dill sauce in the middle of each of the crostini and serve with the soup. You can serve the crostini on the side of the bowl or in the middle of the soup for a more dramatic presentation.

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Categories
Recipes

Cassoulet

SOUP RECIPES- CassouletFresh back from the honeymoon, I would love to say we filled the kitchen with cinnamon and butter and sugar emanating from a hot oven. Our lives were as they had been a la honeymoon equal parts tense and excited at the possibilities ahead. No, I’m not referring to the early days of marriage but instead whether or not our San Francisco Giants would win the National League pennant. We meandered into neighborhood pubs and pizza joints yukking it up with other fans. On a particular rainy Saturday evening, we shared a booth facing a flat screen TV, watching pitchers get swapped out and batters foul. Over tapas and organic beer, we cheered and cowered, the digestive juices roiling in a perpetual state of uncertainty. But it was made less bitter and more sweet with slivers of flatbread festooned with shaved jamon Serrano and black mission figs with manchego cheese. That night, victory tasted sweet.

So our first “official” dinner looks something like this. I enter the apartment with its cheery smells of caramelized onions and a big smile spread wide across Nathan’s face. He’s begun chopping celery and carrots for a cassoulet I’ve been jonesing to make except it’s not the cassoulet and so no big surprise, it takes on a life of its own. We chop on different counters yet somehow at one point, all of his knives are on my cutting board as I’m paring the garlic. Hmm. The stew that resulted from our kitchen antics cut the chill of this October San Francisco evening. Think of it as South meets North or France meets a bit of Spain. Thus, this tasty concoction is a bit of a hot mess, but a tasty one nonetheless.

 

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Cassoulet

YIELD: 4-6 servings

  • 3 celery ribs, halved & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 leeks, halved & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 carrots, halved & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 T fines herbes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a good grinding of black pepper
  • 1 8 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 8 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 pieces smoked bacon, split down the middle & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 dried Black Mission figs, quartered
  • toasted bread crumbs of Country Levain* (see below)

Pour oil, veggies and spices in a heavy stockpot over medium high heat for 12 minutes. Stir occasionally. Heat up the bacon on the stovetop while the veggies are cooking also for about 10-12 minutes. Add the bacon and a little bit of the bacon grease to your veggies along with the diced tomatoes, white beans and chicken stock. Also add the figs. Let simmer covered for 30 minutes. While the stew is simmering, cut up two hefty slices of Country Levain bread into large chunks. Place the bread in a food processor and pulse until the bread is decimated into crumbs. Toss the breadcrumbs in a large pan over medium-low heat and make sure to turn them or stir them frequently until they are toasted. (You could also put them in the oven, but we did it on the stovetop). Et voila. You have made yourself a bowl of a hot mess- garnish it with the breadcrumbs before serving. Enjoy with a cabernet sauvignon. If you’re Nathan, you might also be inclined to sneak in some shaved white cheese like a manchego. Nathan can never get enough of his cheese, but I digress.

 

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Categories
Recipes

Orange Black Cookies

DESSERT RECIPES- Orange & Black Cookies

2010 has been a bit of a doozy as years go. You take the sweet and the bitter.

It was the year Holland almost clinched the World Cup in South Africa. For several weeks on pre-set days, I take on a resemblance of a character from Halloween in a non-October timeframe. An ardent fan of watching the orange and black jerseys scuttle on the field, I took the early bus on several occasions to work, just so I could sit at my self-designated World Cup pub and watch the matches with others excited about the possible outcomes on the field. The rag tag crew that gathered at the pub seemed to play on the same soccer team or that’s the impression I got. Over steaming cups of coffee, we would yell at the screen, along with the bartender, sidled up to the bar. Most of them quietly eschewed my female presence among their male gathering except the bartender. He called me the Dutch team’s “lucky charm” and said when I walked in wearing my Holland jersey, they made their goals.

The final match conveniently fell on my best friend Olga’s birthday. I happened to be house-sitting at a sprawling home with a tv and plenty of space to accommodate our two rooms full of friends to a birthday cum world cup viewing party. While guests sat on the plush red couches, I sat perched on the edge of a red ottoman close to the tv, willing the orange and blacks, the Dutch to win. They played dirty football that I described as “pirate soccer,” tripping and pulling their way toward an inconceivable number of yellow cards. Even still, they were my team, part of my ancestry and in the back of my mind, I played that foolish game of thinking if they could just win, somehow it might ease the pain of my Dad’s recent death.

He loved soccer and even was responsible several years in a row for bringing a young Bolivian soccer team to my hometown to play in the Dallas cup. He would hoot and holler from the stands. He brought noisemakers. He was that guy. After the game, he took the team out to dinner with other friends where they celebrated their heritage and the camaraderie of teamwork. My spoken Dutch equates to counting one to seven and a children’s song about a dog that barks “woof wof woof wof;” whereas his fluency seldom came out but when it did, his face came alive as he chattered excitedly. It was part of the fabric of self. It was always the part of him he kept most tucked away in Texas. The part of him, I had hoped to one day understand better by traveling with him to the Netherlands.

You can imagine my chagrin when the Spanish made that final goal and with it, amid the cheers in the room, the hopefulness of the party diminished as I fought to control my tears. It was irrational, but still his absence was so new. In the early days especially, so much life feels transcribed by their voice and touch… But I collected myself and off we went to sing happy birthday to a beaming Olga.

Two weeks ago, I got married.

Nathan’s passion for baseball and the Giants puts my love of World Cup soccer to shame. His knowledge of statistics, player’s batting averages, names and detailed information on radio announcers gives serious pause. The guy could easily bleed orange and black. For his birthday a few years ago, we rounded up several of his friends and family to celebrate at a game at AT&T park. In between the sixth and seventh innings, the message “Happy Birthday Nathan” lighted the jumbo-tron as we unpeeled the paper linings of mini carrot cupcakes I’d made for the occasion. Oh yeah, he’s an avid Giants fan.

So it should really come as no surprise that on our honeymoon, we found ourselves wandering to a local pub in the town where we were staying to nosh on bar food, drink Oktoberfest off the draft and revel in the Phillies – Giants playoffs, though sometimes we left with more of a knot in our stomachs than a good feeling. The bartender began memorizing our drinks and recognizing us as we came in later in the week. He said he felt more invested in who won because of our dedication.

Nathan’s enthusiasm was contagious. Where I might have been a bit of a fan when we first met, I was now invested and took pride in yukking it up with the guys about how the team was playing. By game six of the playoffs, I drove us through the rain to the ballpark, trying to eke out a place for us at the Public House bar. No luck there, we found ourselves at a tapas microbrewery called the Thirsty Bear. I know personally how much better a game is when you’re surrounded by people intent on the outcome you too desire. My date night to Nathan, I wanted him to be thronged by orange and black. When they won, he pumped his fist up and down, then mechanically clapped his palms together exultant.

For two weeks, I’ve worn orange and black through the mostly black clad streets downtown, a nod to my dedication to see the Giants go all the way in the World Series. This has been a mite strange since normally the Rangers would be my other go-to baseball team. I am Texan after all and my first ball game was watching the Rangers. Friends have teasingly scorned me for not rooting for the Rangers, but I’m a bit of a misfit like those Giants and found myself lured into their success or defeat. Tonight, they did it. They won the World Series! If you were here in San Francisco, you might hear horns honking, people yelling and whooping it up. Fireworks crackling in the night sky. People excited to be a part of the winning team.

One rainy day during the honeymoon a few weeks back, we trolled a used bookstore. He wandered down to fantasy / sci fi as I perused the poetry section, then meandered over to food. I stumbled upon David Lebovitz’s “Ready for Dessert” and while thumbing through the pages came across the recipe for one of my favorite cookies. So in honor, of the Giants I’ve adapted a similar recipe from Gourmet magazine: celebrating the Giants’ victory, the Dutch legacy that keeps me clad in orange and black every four years and the passage of a baseball team from New York to San Francisco. I give you the Orange & Black.

orange & black cookies

 

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ORANGE & BLACKS
adapted from Gourmet Magazine

Think of them as Black & White cookies, just better. They take my love of chocolate and pair it with a subtle orange. It’s the new little black dress of cakey cookies. Trust me, they’re a home run. Hah! Eat while weaing a giants ballcap or perhaps if you’re lucky, a holland jersey or perhaps in New York…

COOKIES

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
ICINGS
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

Make cookies:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a cup.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then add egg, beating until combined well. Mix in flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately in batches at low speed (scraping down side of bowl occasionally), beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix until smooth.

Spoon 1/4 cups of batter about 2 inches apart onto a buttered large baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until tops are puffed and pale golden, and cookies spring back when touched, 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack and chill (to cool quickly), about 5 minutes.

Make icings while cookies chill:
Stir together confectioners sugar, corn syrup, orange juice, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl until smooth. Transfer half of icing to another bowl and stir in cocoa, adding more water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to thin to same consistency as white icing.

Ice cookies:
Turn cookies flat sides up, then spread white icing over half of each and chocolate over other half.

Note: If you can stand the wait, cookies taste better if cooled without being chilled.

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Recipes

Lentil Quinoa with Kale

Lentil Quinoa with Kale

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Lentil Quinoa with Kale

I came up with this dish a few weeks ago and found it so yummy that it was my vegetarian contribution to the Thanksgiving meal yesterday. No turkey, no tryptophan, no troubles! What I discovered in making this recipe is how marvelous the kale cooking liquid is. I actually reserved all of it, using some of it in the recipe below, and then freezing the rest for a rainy day. I love the savory green flavor that is a mighty good stand-in for stock. 

1 bunch curly kale, ribs removed, rinsed, chiffonade-cut
6 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 leek, rinsed and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup rinsed quinoa
1/2 cup brown lentils

Plunge the greens into a large pot of boiling salted water, cook them for 10 minutes. Drain the kale into a bowl, reserving 3 cups of the kale cooking water. Drizzle and swirl the olive oil into a skillet set over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic and pepper flakes stirring occasionally for 7 minutes or until the leeks have softened. Add the kale and 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid reserved cooking water to the garlic mixture. Cook for 15 minutes. Pour the remaining reserved kale cooking liquid into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and add the quinoa and lentils into the saucepan. Add the kale and any liquid in the skillet to the lentils and quinoa. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through and most of the liquid has cooked out.

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Lentil Quinoa with Kale -0958