Wednesday, September 10, 2014

It's a dull, grey morning and I can no longer stubbornly deny it - summer is coming to a close. The air has suddenly taken on distinctively autumnal feel, and I have found myself burdened with a number of sub-par tomatoes, ill-advisedly picked up from the market by my tomato-shunning mother, bless her. As I sit here in freezing in my scarf and slippers (granted, there's a good chance I'm actually cold-blooded), cranking up the oven to 400 degrees seems like a fine idea. So I have decided to coax the flavor out of those tomatoes by roasting them into tomato jam. If you could put summer into a jar and preserve it for the fall and winter ahead, I would, but this seems to be the next best thing.

Roasted Tomato Jam (recipe adapted slightly from Food52)
Thinly slice 1 1/2 lb of tomatoes. I don't think it really matters what kind; some of mine were cherry tomatoes, which I halved rather than slicing. Sprinkle 1/3 cup sugar on the bottom of a baking dish and layer half of the tomatoes on top. Add another sprinkling of sugar, the zest and juice of half a lemon, a pinch of slightly crushed fennel seeds (I happened to like this addition, but if you're not the biggest fan of fennel's licorice-y flavor, I would recommend leaving it out, since the flavor was not overpowering, but definitely apparent), a pinch of red pepper flakes, and 1/2 a cinnamon stick. Add the rest of the tomatoes, and finally another 1/3 cup sugar. Let it all hang out on the counter while the oven heats to 400F,  then roast for about 1-2 hours, checking every 20 minutes or so and stirring until the mixture has a jammy consistency. Spread it on toast and pretend it's still July.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Soft pretzel buns, two ways

Just popping in to share these pretzel buns I whipped up this morning. Just for fun, I threw some chopped dark chocolate in half of the dough. I ended up with two different buns, each with its own character. One was great as a more savory treat; I would love to try using it as a hamburger bun. The other achieved the perfect sweet-salty balance I look for when I want a dessert that you can also eat for breakfast. I might transcribe the recipe later, but for now enjoy a tasty picture.

Monday, July 28, 2014


As many who read this blog know, yesterday was my birthday, and besides an unforgettable dinner at Zuni Cafe, I was gifted a shiny new pasta roller attachment for my Kitchenaid. And so, the only logical course of action was to churn out some fresh, homemade pasta the very next day.

In the absence of a pasta drying rack, clothes hangers on a chandelier are a perfectly acceptable alternative.
Once you have the proper equipment, making pasta is delightfully easy. The recipe I used was so simple - nothing but flour, eggs, and salt - and maybe I'm just easily amused, but feeding the hunk of dough through the machine and watching it smush into a long, flat sheet was such a satisfying task. Apart from the terrifying moment when the chain of my bracelet (and presumably my entire arm soon after) was almost lost to the unrelenting jaws of the roller, the process went smoothly and I was soon rewarded with my very own batch of fresh pasta ready for dinner tonight, perhaps with just a simple tomato sauce to let the pasta shine. I can't wait to do some experimentation. Squid ink pasta, anyone?

Step 1: crack eggs into your flour, sprinkle in salt

Step 2: Beat eggs with a fork and then gradually incorporate the flour
Step 3: Knead your dough for 5-10 minutes and refrigerate for about a half hour. Then you're ready to roll!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Still alive!

My sincerest apologies for the radio silence these past months. No, I haven't stopped cooking and baking, it's just that starting a new, time-consuming, tiring, but utterly fulfilling job tends to send things like blogging to the back-burner. BUT! With this post, I'm hoping to slowly get back into it. So without further ado...

I'll have you know that I have another one of these in the oven as I type. That's how good it is. The one I made yesterday didn't survive to see the light of a new day, and the rest of the homegrown nectarines given to me by my aunt were just begging to meet the same fate as their brethren - to be covered with a blanket of brown sugar and butter and baked into deliciousness.

I can take no credit for this recipe's success. All the work is done by the those amazing nectarines, whose freshness and sweetness needed little to help them onto another level of culinary delight. I've found that this is often the case with quality, fresh, seasonal produce. Sometimes it's best to just let those ingredients shine.

First, I sliced the nectarines, put them in a baking dish and drizzled them with a little lemon juice. Then I covered them with a simple streusel topping and baked them at 375F for 30 minutes. That's all, folks! Here's how I made the streusel:

114g brown sugar
58g all-purpose flour
43g quick-cooking oats
about 3/4 tsp cinnamon
a pinch of salt
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Mix everything but the butter together in a largish bowl, then add the cold butter chunks and mix with a pastry blender until the mixture is sandy and just holds together when you squeeze it. I imagine you could also accomplish this with a food processor, but I found the pastry blender gives more control of how much you mix, and more importantly makes for an easier clean-up.

If you're as lucky as I am and happen to work in an artisan chocolate factory and have access to raw cacao nibs, you might want to do what I did and throw a handful of those in there too. I think you'll be pretty happy with the results, but I'm positive it will be great without them as well.

Sprinkle the streusel atop your nectarines (or peaches, or any other kind of fresh fruit you happen to have on hand) and pop it in the oven. After 30 minutes, pull it out in all its bubbling glory, and try your best to wait til it's just cool enough to not burn your tongue. It may not be the prettiest thing when plated, but i guarantee you it will taste like pure summer.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

I like to think that I'm not a total food snob; I don't always insist upon small-batch gourmet condiments, or artisan hamburgers, or that food that's only acceptable if it comes from a certain remote village in the Swiss Alps. Not always. But sometimes, I feel there is something to be said about making a regional dish the "traditional" way.
I'm reading a book called "Mastering the Art of French Eating", by Ann Mah, in which she tells the story of her year living alone in Paris when her diplomat husband is called away for an assignment in Iraq. She spends her time travelling around France and learning about the traditional dishes of each region she visits. I highly recommend it.
The ways in which those recipes are passed around, tweaked, argued over, preserved, and enjoyed by everyone from locals to tourists to cooks hundreds of miles away are the things that those who love to study culture and who love food (i.e. me) just eat up (pun shamelessly intended).
Last week, on an unusually sweltering day, I had no desire to make anything that involved cooking. Then I recalled something I had read on the blog of David Lebovitz about the classic Salade Niçoise. According to Jacques Médecin, an accepted authority on Provencal food, the only thing that should be cooked in a true Niçoise salad are the eggs. No boiled potatoes, no steamed green beans, none of the things we often find in "Niçoise salads" commonly found on menus in the States. No cooking required equals the perfect dish for an oppressively hot day.
And so, having some hard-boiled eggs already sitting in the fridge, I set out to make an authentic salade Niçoise, and here's how I did it:

Salade Niçiose (From David Lebovitz)
This was enough for Dad and I, and my mom, who doesn't like tomatoes or olives (so this was perfect for her) had a teeny bit, so I'd say it serves 2 or 3. I used the amounts as loose guidelines.
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
1 cucumber, peeled, seeds scraped, and sliced
2 spring onions, peeled and thinly sclied
1/2 c shelled fava beans
1/3 c niçoise olives or other small black olives, pitted
a large bunch of lettuce or mixed salad greens
3 hard-boiled eggs, cut in wedges
a handful of fresh chopped basil or parsley
1 6oz tin of tuna
olive oil

Rub the halved garlic all over the inside of your salad bowl
Cut the tomatoes in wedges and put them in a colander. Sprinkle them with salt and let them drain while you assemble the rest of the salad.
Add cucumber, onions, fava beans, olives, lettuce, and tuna to the bowl
Mix herbs with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper, drizzle most of it over salad and toss.
Top the salad with egg wedges and drizzle with the remaining oil.
Serve with a crusty baguette and pretend you're sitting by the beach in Nice.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Happy Monday!

I don't have much to say today, but I thought I'd check in with some pictures of bread, because why not?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Work with what you've got

"What's for dinner tonight?"
It's the perpetual question in our house. I love planning meals, looking through recipes, and thinking about interesting new ingredients to try. Something I don't love? Making a trip to the store. And sometimes, on days like today, when I've just gotten home from work and the thought of combating gale-force winds in the grocery store parking lot makes me want to stay indoors forever, it's just not going to happen. So the question becomes, "What do we have in the house that can be put together into what might resemble a meal?".
Luckily, our little vegetable garden is beginning to come in handy. While not abound with produce, one thing that it has actually managed to produce is just enough arugula to do something with. Just enough, maybe, to whip up some arugula pesto. I can always count on having Parmesan cheese, olive oil, garlic, and some kind of nuts knocking about in the pantry. Arugula lends a nice spiciness to the sauce and makes it a little different than your basic basil version.
So pesto, there's that.
I know there's also pasta in the pantry, but there doesn't seem to be a decent amount of any single shape. No matter! A master of rationalization, I tell myself, what better way to make plain old pasta fun and exciting than a myriad of shapes and sizes, each handling the sauce in its own way? So I toss together a few kinds, making sure that they have similar cooking times, and away I go.
I also just so happen to have a couple of leeks and some zucchini in the fridge, so I cook those up as well. Et voilà! This springy green meal is starting to come together.

Mixed pasta with Arugula pesto and Veggies 
For the pesto:
1c arugula (or any green, really), loosely packed
1/4c toasted pine nuts (I happened to have the classic, but I think almonds might also be good here)
1/4c Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic
a few tbsp olive oil, depending on your preference
salt and pepper to taste

Process arugula in a food processor until it's very finely chopped. Then add garlic, nuts, and cheese,
processing after each addition. Finally, drizzle in olive oil until desired consistency is achieved. Taste 
and add salt, pepper, and any more of any ingredient you feel it needs.

For the Pasta:
1lb pasta (any kind you wish)
1 leek, sliced into rounds
1 clove garlic
about 3 medium zucchini, or your vegetable of choice, chopped in 1/2" pieces
a splash of white wine
a handful of sun-dried tomatoes, minced
1/2c pesto
olive oil
grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta to just short of al dente in boiling salted water. Drain and save about a cup of the pasta water.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet and add leek and garlic. Sautée until leeks are softened, then add zucchini, wine, and sun-dried tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until zucchini is tender, about 8-10 minutes.
Add drained pasta to skillet along with pesto, a handful of cheese and some of the reserved pasta water. Toss to coat the pasta in that delicious sauce that forms, and serve immediately.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easy as pie

Mix together 11/2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup flour, a dash of nutmeg, and a pinch of salt. Then stir in 3 beaten eggs and mix til combined. Finally, stir in about 4 cups of chopped rhubarb. Then pour it all into a pie crust, top it with a lattice if you want to get fancy, and pop it in a 400 degree oven for 50 minutes. In the exact words of my grandmother, written with a typewriter onto an index card, "It's really not that might just eat the whole thing yourself   yumyum!".

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Growing up, Easter for me always meant one thing. Well, maybe two things. Or several things. But apart from the chocolate bunnies and the Easter egg hunts and my mom's rhubarb pie, there's one tradition I want to talk about today. One which, as I've gotten older, has actually become more important to me than all those other things (okay, the rhubarb pie is still pretty special).
Portuguese sweet bread has always been an annual treat that my mom made at Easter. Buttery, tender, and ever so slightly sweet, it's perfect toasted for breakfast or as an afternoon snack. But I could go on and on about how delicious the stuff is. As my mother and I spent the day in the kitchen beating eggs, counting cups of flour and punching dough, what was important was that I saw my great-grandmother come to life in that bread. My great-grandmother, who came from Portugal without speaking a word of English, without knowing if she would see her parents again, and who at the age of 14 lived a much more fascinating life than I can say I've had in my 22 years. Now that I know her story, Easter sweet bread is no longer just a nice treat that I get once a year, it's a tribute to her. Every recipe came from somewhere, and following that recipe is like reading a story. The best part is that you get to make it into your own version of the story.

Now every Easter I look forward not only to eating that tasty, tasty bread, I also relish the day-long labor of love it takes to make it.

I don't think my great-grandmother ever wrote down a recipe for her bread, but at some point it seems that a family member came across a recipe in a newspaper or magazine which came close, and it is that faded clipping that my mom and I used as our guide. It may not be exactly the same as the bread my great-grandmother made, but somehow I don't think she'd mind.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Today I had some extra time and some extra almond flour left over from making macarons, a situation I thought called for some baking. Flipping through my copy of Nigel Slater's Ripe, I found just the thing: an apricot almond cake with apricot purée. Sadly having no fresh apricots on hand, I decided to forego the purée and just make the cake, which uses dried apricots. Dried apricots are usually a staple in my pantry, so I began to assemble my ingredients. To my horror, I opened the cabinet only to find it utterly void of apricots of any sort! I rifled through the shelves, silently cursing the family member who dared eat from our communal food supply, finally happening upon my savior: dried figs. Figs are one of my favorite fruits, and their fleeting season makes them extra special. Luckily, though, I can enjoy them year-round in their dried form. In this particular moment, I thought their subtle sweetness would pair perfectly with an almond cake. Plus, fresh or dried, I think they're just lovely to look at.

The cake itself was lovely too, though a little heavy. It was buttery and dense, almost more like shortbread, which was alright by me. A little sliver with a dollop of whipped cream is the perfect after dinner treat.

You'll have to forgive my lack of a photograph of the finished product, but here is the recipe!

Fig and almond cake (From Nigel Slater's Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard)
250g unsalted butter
250g sugar
75g almond flour
100g all-purpose flour
100g dried figs
4 large eggs, beaten
juice and zest of 1 lemon

Line the bottom of a 9" cake pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350F
Cream butter and sugar together in a stand mixer.
In a separate bowl, combine almond and AP flours.
Give the figs a whirl in the food processor until they are very finely chopped - almost a purée, but not quite.
With the mixer on low, add the beaten eggs to the butter and sugar a little at a time.
Turn the machine off and add the lemon zest and about 1/3 of the flour mixture, then mix on low until incorporated. Add the second and third batches of flour, mixing after each.
Finally, with the mixer still on low, add the lemon juice and the figs.
Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan and bake for 35 minutes.
Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen, place a piece of parchment paper on a wire cooling rack and sprinkle it with sugar. Turn the cake out onto the sugared paper and allow to cool.
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Eat your backyard

The snap peas I made for dinner to accompany this salmon with bacon, shallot, and mint weren't grown in my garden, but hopefully soon I will be sharing my own personal backyard bounty. After months of wishing and scheming, today my mom and I finally started out own little garden. Tomatoes, greens, beans, radishes, and squash will hopefully be on the menu around here in the coming months. There's something that I have always loved about using ingredients that you yourself have watched spout up from the earth. I don't have much experience with gardening, so here's hoping that some luck and some mother's wisdom will make this latest venture a success (drought-permitting...).

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Eating Italy

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Today, I discovered that I like beef tongue. For lunch, I had, pasta, locally grown roasted carrots, ricotta gelato with chocolate and orange, some good Italian wine, and the insalata di lingua, a salad of chilled beef tongue with potato and anchovy aioli. A rather disjointed meal, yes, but a delight nonetheless. There are a lot of perks to working in a restaurant that serves amazing food, among them, the opportunity to taste my way through the ever-changing menu and experience Italian food comparable to the stuff I ate at the source. Inevitably, doing so means trying some, well, different things. Today it was beef tongue, the other day it was tripe, once it was fried chicken liver. If they put pickled pig's feet on the menu, I would probably try it without hesitation. I'm here to learn, and I don't want to miss anything. And guess what? All of those things I've tried? Delicious! If you let the idea of tongue, or liver, or stomach hold you back, who knows what you might miss?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April showers

A simple egg-drop style soup, mildly flavored with wild onions and red pepper flake. Why not throw a knob of ginger in while it boils to make things interesting? It's taken out at the end, but just a hint of its essence remains. Finish it off with some lightly sautéed asparagus, and you've got yourself a perfectly comforting rainy springtime lunch. For best results, pair with a good book and a blanket.

Spring Soup for 1
about a cup and a half chicken stock
one wild onion or scallion, thinly sliced
a knob of fresh ginger
a pinch of red pepper flake
one egg, beaten
some freshly grated parmesan cheese
a few spears of asparagus
salt to taste

Sautée asparagus in a bit of butter or olive oil until just starting to brown. Chop and set aside for now. Whisk the cheese in with the beaten egg.
Meanwhile, bring stock, onion, ginger and pepper flake to a boil. Once it's boiling, pour in the egg and cheese mixture in a slow, steady stream while vigorously stirring. The egg will instantly cook and make nice noodle-like tendrils.
Remove ginger, add salt to taste, and pour into a cozy soup bowl. Add the asparagus and garnish with onion flowers, if it strikes your fancy.
Eat immediately and enjoy the rest of your day inside.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A valiant effort

Sometimes, things don't turn out exactly the way you envisioned them.
As I mentioned in my last post, yesterday my friend Kristie came by to help me attempt to recreate the Courtesan au Chocolat, the pastry seen in Wes Anderson's latest movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel:

While not a complete disaster, I'm afraid our humble little creations left something to be desired:
True, we could have put a little more effort into the decoration, but I'll have to admit, once that too-thin icing was made and rapidly absorbing into the pastry, we felt we had come far enough. There's a certain point when you simply want to forego all that fussing about and get to the eating. And eat them we did. Let's face it, chocolate custard-filled pastries with a sugary glaze are not going to taste bad, no matter how they look. I think I'll just leave that fancy decoration to the professionals for now.
More important than the final outcome, though, is the pleasure of spending a rainy Saturday baking with a good friend. Now, isn't that what it's all about?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Wes Anderson's latest creation, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and as a lover of everything Wes Anderson does, I was not disappointed. The movie was a whimsical delight - visually stunning, subtly witty, and poignant in all the right places. Then, a few days ago, I happily stumbled upon this video, which details the method for making a Courtesan au Chocolat, the pastry specialty of the film's fictional bakery, Mendl's. Stay tuned for my documented attempt at recreating it!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

How I love the start of spring. The yard starts to look lush and green, daffodils start to pop up from their winter hiding places, and new leaves start to adorn the trees' bare branches. Best of all, though, is the bright, fresh produce that begins to appear in the markets - asparagus, greens, artichokes, tender young pea shoots, even the very first berries, a tantalizing preview of summer, my favorite season of all. I love my hearty soups, squash, and potatoes, but after a while you can only eat so much kale. By the time winter winds down, I'm ready for some new life in my food.
Produce somehow always seems to taste better when it comes from your own backyard. I don't have my own vegetable garden, and with our impending drought, now isn't the ideal time to plant one. That will be a project for another year. In the meantime, though, there are a few little goodies growing in my yard. For example, the wild onions that we never planted, but pop up of their own accord every spring. I've always enjoyed looking at them, but have never gotten around to harvesting or trying to eat them. Until today, that is!
They're lovely, aren't they? I think those little white bells just scream spring.

After a bit of research to ensure that I'm not poisoning my family, I whipped up a cauliflower and wild onion frittata. I cooked the cauliflower florets in my cast iron skillet, letting them audaciously walk the line between burnt and deliciously crispy brown, then I set them aside for a bit. I threw the onions in the same pan with a bit of butter, turned down the heat, and let them caramelize for a good while. Once that was done, I beat 6 eggs with a dash of nutmeg, and added everything back into the skillet, along with a sprinkling of parmesan, of course. I let it start to firm up around the edges, then threw it the 400 degree oven for somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes. Since my research tells me all parts of the onions are edible, even the flowers, I sprinkled them on top as a garnish, so if you don't hear from me for a while you know to call poison control.

Happy Spring!

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Leavened Life

I may have finally come across a name for this little project of mine. While my musings so far have not been entirely about bread, my love for the stuff was something of a catalyst for what has turned out to be a passion for all things culinary. Spending a semester in Paris in 2012, I discovered a culture where a good meal always involves great bread - the staff of life. The age-old art form of bread-making has such deep cultural and historical roots that my anthropology-studying self couldn't help but want to delve deeper. After also travelling to Italy and finding nothing but amazing food, I came home and started cooking.

Leaven - the stuff that makes bread rise - whether it's yeast or natural starter, is what brings it to life. Different leavening agents can give bread its own own flavor, its distinct character. And so I have titled my blog, The Leavened Life, bringing flavor and character to my world through food.

Speaking of leavening agents, today is St. Patrick's day! I made Irish soda bread, which rather than yeast uses baking soda as leavening, and is a little more like a giant biscuit or scone than bread, but delicious nonetheless. And to pay further homage to my Irish heritage, corned beef and cabbage is on the menu for tonight, cooking away in the oven as I write.

Perhaps my all-time favorite type of meal can be described with one word: toast. A good piece of toasty bread can be the perfect setting for any kind of topping, and can be made into a hearty meal or a light snack. Infinitely customizeable, you can have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even dessert. Toast with peanut butter and banana slices, toast with sautéed spinach and a poached egg, toast with hummus, toast with avocado, toast with ricotta and fresh tomato, smoked salmon and capers, cream cheese and cucumber, nutella, I could go on and on.
Today I was faced with a couple of leftover zucchinis from dinner the other night. Not wanting to eat them right away, but not wanting to let them go bad, I came across a marvelous idea: zucchini butter! Yes, zucchini can be transformed into a condiment that works perfectly as a side dish, eaten straight out of the pan, in a sandwich, or simply spread atop - you guessed it - toast.
To begin, I shredded the zucchini with a box grater, then squeezed out as much moisture as possible through a clean kitchen towel. Meanwhile I sautéed a bit of onion and garlic in butter. Once the onion was softened and translucent, I added the zucchini and salt and pepper to taste, and let it cook down for a good while.
I would have taken more pictures, but this stuff didn't last long

Patience is a virtue here. The method is not unlike caramelizing onions - you let them cook over a long period of time over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. You don't want your pan to be so hot as to let them get browned and crispy (this can also have delicious results, but is not our goal here), but rather so that they melt down into a spreadable, almost creamy consistency. If you can resist eating it all right away, you can put it in a jar and save it for lunch tomorrow, whether or not toast is involved.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Macarons - what is it about these little devils makes them so intimidating to home bakers? Is it the egg white whipping? The required sifting? The use of a piping bag? The fact that one of them purchased at the famous Maison Ladurée might cost $4? Or perhaps it's the fact that every recipe you come across seems to be a little different. I have made them in the past with varying levels of success, ranging from dear-god-what-have-I-created failure to something that was actually pretty darn good. It seems that the hard part is finding a recipe that isn't incredibly convoluted and and confusing. It also helps if you have all the right ingredients and don't end up replacing almond flour with slivered almonds that you and your friends have taken turns chopping as finely as possible, but I digress.
What better way to break in my new Kitchenaid mixer than to try my hand at macarons once more, and begin to perfect my technique? I think that to have the ability to whip out a batch of these guys is to have a go-to impressive gift for any occasion. Who wouldn't love to receive a box of fancy cookies with the added bonus of homemade love thrown in? So, without further ado, here are today's macarons:

I found that the hardest part is piping the cookies onto the baking sheet so they are all the same size and shape, and so that they don't end up with Hershey's kiss-like peaks on top. Mine ended up looking a little, shall we say, rustic? Nevertheless, they ended up being quite tasty, and I was very proud indeed.

French Macarons (recipe adapted from Martha Stewart)
250g almond flour
250g confectioner's/powdered sugar
190g egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
a pinch of cream of tartar
250g superfine sugar

Preheat your oven to 315F.
Combine the almond flour and the confectioner's sugar with a few pulses in the food processor. Then sift the mixture twice to ensure that it is nice and powdery soft. Set this aside for a now.
Whisk the egg whites in a stand-mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar and continue whisking until soft peaks form.
Reduce speed to low and add superfine sugar, then crank it up to high speed and whisk until stiff peaks form.

Gradually fold in the almond flour mixture with a rubber spatula, until the whole thing is smooth and shiny.
Transfer this mixture into a pastry bag with a 1/2" plain round tip*
Pipe 3/4" rounds onto a silicone- or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 1" between them.
Tap the baking sheet on the counter (or drop it from a few inches up, as I did) to release any air bubbles, then let them sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes, so that a dry-ish skin forms.
Bake in the oven for 8 minutes, then rotate the sheets and bake another 8-10 minutes.
Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before removing them, then allow them to cool completely before filling them.

As for the filling, I used three different kinds - home made lemon curd, raspberry jam, and Trader Joe's salted caramel sauce - all of which were delicious. Next time maybe I'll try a chocolate ganache or some kind of buttercream. And maybe if I'm feeling particularly fanciful I'll add some food coloring to the batter and make some pretty colors.

*In the absence of a pastry bag, I used a large ziplock bag with the corner cut off. This worked just fine for me, but I think using a pastry bag might have helped them look a little more uniform.
Like I said, rustic.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Yolk

What could be better than smashing a cooked egg and having the yolk ooze out, bathing everything under it in rich, warm goodness? I love a good hard-boiled egg, but sometimes soft-boiled is the way to go. You get the same runny yolk effect as a poached egg without the stress that comes with it (I've spent countless minutes fretting over swirling pots of simmering-but-be-sure-not-to-let-it-boil water and ghostly tendrils of egg white floating out of control). Simply drop an egg into already-boiling water and forget about it for 5 to 6 minutes. Just be sure to be ever so gentle when peeling it - one wrong move and you risk puncturing the delicate white and releasing the liquid gold within. Your care will be rewarded, however, when you taste that delicious yolk atop whatever dish your heart desires. Homemade bread is an especially perfect vehicle. I topped mine with a smear of dijon and sautéed spinach with shallot.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Back in the saddle

It's been a long time - far, far too long - since I've baked a loaf of bread. My starter was sitting in the fridge and needed to be refreshed, but I was absolutely itching to get my hands in some dough, so I decided to use instant yeast and forgo my usual overnight fermentation. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed with the results.
I remembered why I love baking bread so much. Its comforting warmth and that intoxicating aroma made me wish I could just crawl inside and live in there. Standing there holding that fresh loaf, I imagined that this must be how people feel about babies - they're warm, they smell good, and you can't help but marvel at the fact that you created them.
And it tasted good too.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Can I tell you a secret? The focaccia I made the other day? It wasn't very good. The recipe I used was actually meant for Meyer lemons, which are sweeter than regular lemons, but since I had such an overabundance of lemons from my yard, I thought I'd give it a try anyway. The result wasn't horrible - the bread itself had a delightful texture and a caramelized, lemon-y flavor that was lightly perfumed with rosemary - but upon biting into one of the slices of lemon baked onto the top, I was greeted with an acidic, bitter aftertaste. I would guess that Meyer lemons would have been the better choice.
I quite liked the focaccia base used in the recipe, and I realized that it's just a starting point for endless topping possibilities. So, I decided to give it another go, this time with raisins, a simple topping which happens to be a favorite in my family. It was delicious.
Just look at that sugar-y caramelized sheen. This didn't last long in my house.

I always used to be embarrassed about the way  I pronounced the word focaccia. I know the most common pronunciation is "foh-cah-cha", but my family, who hail from a little village in northern Italy, always said "fi-gah-sa". I used to have to check myself before I said it around anyone outside my family, lest they take me for some impostor Italian who didn't know how to pronounce Italian words. It wasn't until recently that I learned that the way my great-grandmother said focaccia was absolutely correct. It just happened to be part of her regional dialect. Being in the north, and therefore closer to the French border, it makes perfect sense that the word might sound more like the French fougasse. It's wonderful to think about our foods and the words we use to describe them as markers of our culture, changing across space and time like any other tradition. No longer am I self-conscious about the way I say focaccia - it's part of my family's unique heritage, and it's one of the many ways that my grandfather, my great-grandmother, and everyone before them live on through me.

Friday, January 17, 2014

When life gives you lemons

This particularly bountiful lemon harvest has left us with more lemons than we know what to do with. Lemon bars, lemonade, lemon curd, and now lemon focaccia! A sprinkling of sugar on top and the addition of fresh rosemary takes it to the next level.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Boredom strikes...

Craving a virtuous afternoon treat? Have a few final mandarins lingering in your fruit bowl? Have some dark chocolate chips hanging out in the pantry (of course you do!)? Melt some of those chips down in a double broiler or in the microwave, peel those Cuties, and dip the slices in the chocolate. Let them dry on a parchment-lined baking sheet. And hey, why not sprinkle on a little of that fancy sel gris that you bought on a whim a few months ago and haven't used until now? Regular coarse sea salt works just fine too.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Taking Off

"To Begin, begin." -William Wordsworth

Things are looking up! Since we last saw each other, it would appear that I've gotten a job at a pizzeria. Well, technically, I haven't started or officially been hired, but after an interview and a visit back (persistence pays off!) I think I'm in! Now, I'll have what's probably the lowest job on the totem pole - what else would they give a 22-year-old just out of school with no experience in the food industry? BUT! I have my foot in the door. This is where you start, right? Right. Humble beginnings. I'm just looking forward to getting into an environment that is focused on bringing people great food. So, to celebrate, I thought tonight I would whip up some pizza of my own!

I have my own wild yeast starter that's been bubbling away for about 16 months (!!!) and aside from using it to make homemade bread, I've also been using it to make pizza dough à la Tartine Bread. It transforms the pizza crust from a mere vehicle for cheese and toppings into a flavor component all its own, bringing a whole new dimension to the finished product.
My starter - looking a little sleepy having just been taken out of the fridge

On to the pizza! Now, I have nothing against store-bought pizza sauce, but I'll usually only use it in a pinch. When making it yourself is so simple, I think it's worth it if you have the time. Heat up some butter and olive oil in a big pot and throw in a diced onion and maybe a clove of garlic. Once they're nice and soft and smelling amazing, dump in a can of tomatoes and give them a mash with your spoon. Let it simmer away for at least an hour, stirring every so often and helping the tomatoes break down. If you don't want a chunkier sauce, give it a whirl in the food processor when you're done.

From there, you don't really need a recipe to make a great pizza. Toss on whatever ingredients you have on hand, whatever's in season, anything that strikes your fancy today. I went with tomato sauce, smoked mozzarella, crispy pancetta and spinach. Excuse the quality of the pictures - I'm still learning the art of remembering to take pictures while you're cooking!