Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sabbatical



There are times in life when sabbaticals are necessary. This fall I took a baking sabbatical. Baking had ceased to be fun and my butt had ceased to be human size, so I thought it best to ease off the baking for a while.

During the few months I didn’t bake, I found myself not really missing it. This surprised me, as I thought I’d be continually fighting with myself as I rolled my grocery cart down the baking aisle. It was actually nice not to think about baking for a while. I knew when I was ready, I’d return to it with vigor and excitement.

My baking sabbatical coincided with another sabbatical: one from my marriage. Dan and I decided to separate for a bit, so I went east to spend time with my sister, Wendy, and her family. As soon as my plane left the ground, I began to panic. The words of a good friend of mine, Charles, who is divorced, rang in my ears. Charles told me that the way to mend a marriage is not to separate. As I settled into a marathon of Law and Order: Criminal Intent for the five-hour flight, I wondered if I had just made a very big mistake.

It turns out that what didn’t work for Charles worked quite well for me. Spending time in Rhinebeck, New York, with Wendy, my wonderful brother-in-law, Seth, and my favorite niece and nephew, Sammi and Seth Robert; walking in the country; getting hooked on Dancing with the Stars; laughing a lot and breathing truly fresh air was incredibly therapeutic. I can’t say it saved the marriage, but I know it saved me.

A few days after I came back to Los Angeles, I was rummaging around in the kitchen and I got the sudden urge to bake. There wasn’t much in the way of ingredients, as I had been gone and on sabbatical, but I managed to put together a decent batch of mocha chip cookies. I had never made these before, and they were totally improvisational and totally delicious.

I’ve really learned to loosen my control on just about everything. Going through life trying to control everything is a prescription for profound heartbreak. For the first time in my life I’m not planning my every move and my every minute. And I have to say, it feels pretty good. Who knows? Some really extraordinary cookies could come out of it.

Mocha Chip Cookies
Makes about 20 3½-inch cookies

Feel free to add more espresso if you want more intense flavor here. You can also get a bigger yield if you go with a smaller cookie.

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons instant espresso
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1¾ sticks (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (my favorite is Whole Foods’ 365 vegan semisweet chips)

1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Line baking sheet with parchment. If you don’t want to use parchment, that’s fine. Just don’t grease the baking sheet.
2. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, espresso, baking soda and salt. In large bowl, whisk together butter, sugars, applesauce and almond extract. Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
3. Drop tablespoons of dough onto baking sheet, leaving room between each. I do 9 cookies per batch. Bake 11 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to rack. When completely cooled, store in airtight container for up to 3 days.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Real Hot Chocolate



It’s raining and coldish in Los Angeles again. (I say coldish so my East Coast friends and family don’t tease me mercilessly: It’s 50 here, as opposed to in the teens there.) Winter is knocking at the door and that means one thing: hot chocolate.

For the past two months I’ve been on a hot chocolate quest. I’ve had the powered stuff, the real stuff and I’ve made several different iterations myself. This is probably a never-ending quest, but so far my favorite restaurant versions have been Joan’s on Third  (it was the day before Halloween and the barista made a little ghost out of the steamed milk!) and Aroma Café (the whipped cream is streaked with chocolate syrup!). Which brings me to my hot chocolate revelation: The perfect cup of chocolate must have the perfect balance of sweetness and chocolatiness. You know what I mean if you’ve ever had a cup that was overwhelming in either department.

Real hot chocolate has spoiled me for good, and I can safely say I will probably not go back to any kind of powdered stuff made with water. It’s gotta be the real thing made with some kinda milk. One has to have standards, don’t you agree?

Real Hot Chocolate
Vegan
Serves 1

Feel free to use regular milk here if you want. There is, however, a great variety of dairy-free milks to choose from: hazelnut, oat, rice, coconut as well as almond and soy. A lot of dairy-free milks have added sugar, and I find they make the hot chocolate a bit too sweet. I’ve made this with chocolate chips, and it’s hard to get those suckers to dissolve completely. I heard Ina Garten say that chocolate chips are made with stabilizers so they retain their form in cookies. I think Ina’s right. (Again.) If you’re rolling vegan with this, make sure whatever chocolate you use is free of dairy.

8 ounces unsweetened vanilla almond milk
2 ounces finely chopped dark chocolate (I like Scharffen Berger 62% cacao)
1 or 2 tablespoons coconut milk (optional)

1. Combine the almond milk and chocolate in a small saucepan and heat, whisking constantly, until almond milk and chocolate become one. Simmer gently until the milk is steaming but not boiling.
2. Pour hot chocolate into your favorite mug. Stir in a tablespoon or two of coconut milk if you roll that way. Drink and enjoy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Is Funny, Hates Cake


Max spent his junior year of high school at boarding school in Texas. This would not have been my choice, but Max said he wanted to go to away because he wanted to “get serious about school.”

Max has never been very keen on school, so his wanting to “get serious about school” was a big deal. Each morning since he was in preschool, I’d practically have to wrestle him out of bed to get him to school on time. For a few months when he was 6, he would pretend to be dead when I came in to wake him. He was extremely convincing. One morning I began reading the definition of fart from the dictionary in a really nerdy voice. It’s hard to pretend to be dead when you’re laughing. And, if you’re not dead, you must get up and go to school.

This worked well for a few weeks, then I had to do it in a French accent, then as various cartoon characters, then as my mother-in-law. All good shows eventually close, though, and after he no longer found his grandmother’s worldview on flatulence entertaining, he went back to pretending he was dead. I found this funny and I admired his commitment, so it was impossible to be angry with him.

Whenever I get angry at Max he completely disarms me with humor. He knows what makes me laugh and he wields it like a sword whenever I try to discipline him. Since he’s now looking down the barrel of 19, this doesn’t happen anymore. Lucky for me.

When I was pregnant, I wanted a healthy child, of course, but I also wished for a funny child. The thought of a child with no sense of humor was just unbearable. I got what I wished for.

The one thing I didn’t consider when I was making a wish list for the kind of child I’d get is the eating factor. Max is the only child I’ve ever met who doesn’t like cake. This has to be a genetic anomaly. There is no one in my family or Dan’s who refuses cake. After almost 19 years, I’ve finally made my peace with this. Max can mimic perfectly just about anyone he hears and quip with the best of them, but he will not abide a birthday cake.

Max brings me the gift of laughter every day, something I consider more valuable than straight A’s, excellence in sports or any of the other myriad things by which we gauge our children’s contribution. So, he won’t eat cake. That I can live with.

Blueberry Breakfast Cake with Sweet Almond Crunch
Vegan
Makes 9 servings

Entenmann’s Louisiana Crunch Cake was my inspiration for this cake, and, nope, Max won’t eat that, either. In case you’ve never eaten the Louisiana Crunch Cake, it’s a moist yellow cake that’s sort of Bundt shaped, and it’s covered with this crunchy-sweet glaze. It’s delicious and filled with so much crap I’m kind of embarrassed to admit how much I love it. I know blueberries aren’t in season now, so if you want to leave them out, go right ahead. Since Entenmann’s doesn’t use real fruit in its cakes, feel free to follow suit.

Topping
1 tablespoon toasted almonds, finely chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Cake
Canola oil spray
2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for the blueberries
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
⅓ cup canola oil
¾ cup sugar
⅓ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup blueberries

1. In a small bowl, mix together almonds and sugar and set aside. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 8x8 baking pan with canola oil.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, sugar, applesauce, almond milk and vanilla and almond extracts. Stir dry ingredients into wet until combined. Combine blueberries with a pinch or two of flour so they don’t settle at the bottom of the cake. Gently fold blueberries in to batter.
3. Spoon batter into pan and make sure it’s evenly distributed. Sprinkle topping onto cake. Bake 28-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cake cool completely in pan on rack before cutting and serving. You can store leftover cake, covered, in the baking pan for up to 2 days.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Equal-opportunity Baking


I like to think of myself as an equal-opportunity baker. If someone wants a gluten-free cookie, I’ll make it. If someone asks for a vegan cupcake, I’m there. If someone (my niece and nephew, especially) wants a cookie with eggs and butter, I’m happy to oblige. The only baking feat I don’t seem to be able to accomplish is a gluten-free, vegan cake. Well, let me rephrase: The only baking feat I don’t seem to be able to accomplish is a gluten-free, vegan cake that I would be willing to eat.

Some of the gf, vegan stuff made by professionals that I’ve actually paid money for has been, shall I say, less than satisfactory. I can’t believe people are actually shelling out dough to eat stuff that tastes like it’s spent its more flavorful days in a box buried in the Mojave.

Baking is always an adventure, whether you’re making something straight up or you’re improvising to meet dietary needs. Chocolate cupcakes are just about one of my favorite things. I make killer vegan ones, and I developed killer gluten-free ones. But, alas, I cannot make killer gluten-free, vegan chocolate cupcakes. While I figure that one out, please enjoy my offering here.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate-Mascarpone Frosting
Gluten-free
Makes 12 cupcakes

Mascarpone is less tangy than cream cheese, and I much prefer it to the latter. If you think these cupcakes need a bit more excitement, you can top them with chopped roasted hazelnuts, chocolate chips or toasted coconut.

Cupcakes
Canola oil spray (if you’re not using baking cups)
1 cup blanched almond flour
⅔ cup GF Classical Blend flour, or your favorite gluten-free flour, sifted
⅓ cup coconut flour
1 scant cup sugar
½ cup good unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs, room temperature
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
½ cup light coconut milk
⅓ cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract

Frosting
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup mascarpone, softened
Pinch salt
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons light coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking pan with muffin cups or spray with canola oil.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking powder, xanthan gum and sea salt. In another large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, almond and coconut milks, canola oil and vanilla and almond extracts. Stir dry ingredients into wet until well combined.
3. Spoon batter into muffin cups to ¾ full and bake 20-22 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer cupcakes to rack to cool completely, about an hour.
4. For the frosting: Using an electric mixer, beat together butter and mascarpone. Add salt and ½ cup confectioners’ sugar, and then add a tablespoon of light coconut milk. Add the chocolate and beat until combined. Add remaining ½ cup confectioners’ sugar, followed by second tablespoon of coconut milk, beating well to incorporate. Taste and make sure frosting is sweet enough. If you need more confectioners’ sugar, feel free to add it. You’ll also need to add a bit more coconut milk. Add vanilla and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes.
5. Frost the cupcakes only after they have cooled completely. If you want to add toppings, now’s the time. Serve and refrigerate the leftovers for up to 3 days.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Scones


The mid-90s are a bit of a blur for me. I was working full-time, Max was a baby prone to frequent ear infections alternating with the croup and Dan was working extremely long hours and was home basically to sleep. There was one thing I looked forward to each day: my afternoon scone. My afternoon scone was made by the Grand Marnier Café on Broadway between 55th and 56th streets. It was the size of a softball, and it’s soft, eggy center was filled with sweet, juicy blueberries. The top had a delightful sugar crunch, the shards of which would either fall into my lap or onto whatever manuscript I was working on.

The afternoon scone and the accompanying café au lait would sometimes have to tide me over until lunch the next day. The working-mom thing had me so busy there were many nights that after I finally got Max to sleep, I would then choose sleep over food. I was kinda goofy during that time, but I was thin. Sigh.

The Grand Marnier Café closed sometime after I moved to Los Angeles. Every time I go back home I pass by that block, hoping maybe it’s been revived. Since I’ve yet to find a decent gluten-free scone, I’ve taken it upon myself to re-create those amazing treats. Since blueberries aren’t in season now and I don’t like raisins, I went with apples. California-grown Fujis are in season now, and they are mouth-watering. They also don’t stain clothing or papers when they manage to elude your mouth. Biting into a sweet, juicy apple-y bit is almost as thrilling as biting into a sweet, juicy blueberry-y bit. When blueberries are in season, you can bet that blueberry scones will be on the menu.

Apple Scones
Gluten-free
Makes about 12 scones
Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

I tried to duplicate these as best as I could. They don’t taste exactly like the works of art from the Grand Marnier Café, probably because these are gluten-free. I used a sweet Fuji apple here, but feel free to use whichever kind of apple you like best. With regard to the shapes, I’m a complete spaz and cannot be counted on to cut triangles deftly. So I used a biscuit cutter. If you have a natural talent for triangle cutting, chuck the biscuit cutter and do your worst.

1½ cup GF Classical Blend flour, or your favorite gf flour
1 cup blanched almond flour
2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
½ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup half-and-half
4 large eggs
1 medium apple, peeled, cored and chopped (about ¾ cup)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line baking sheet with parchment.
2. In a food processor, add flours, 1 tablespoon sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the butter resembles small peas and the ingredients are well combined. If you don’t own a food processor (or you just don’t feel like washing the blade and bowl), pour everything into a mixing bowl and work the butter into the dry ingredients using your hands.
3. In a large mixing bowl, vigorously whisk together 3 eggs and the half-and-half.  Stir in the dry ingredients. Stir in the chopped apple. Turn the dough out onto a clean, well-floured surface and knead it 10 times, no more.  If it’s sticky, add a bit more flour, but not too much. It should be a bit sticky.
4. Shape the dough into a ¾-inch-thick rectangle and either cut shapes with a biscuit cutter or cut triangles with a knife. If you’re using a biscuit cutter, you can shape the dough into a circle, which is what I did. Reshape leftover dough and cut more scones. Repeat until you are out of dough.
5. Beat the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon water and brush the top of each scone with a pastry brush. Sprinkle each scone with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar.
6. Bake until the scones are golden brown, about 14 minutes. They will last about 2 days, so get eating!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Meyer Lemons


There’s no place I’d rather be as winter closes in than right here in Los Angeles. Walking around my neighborhood and breathing in the scent of the budding orange blossoms is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. When I lived in New York, I would always find comfort in the smell of lemon and basil cooking away in some olive oil or butter. It would remind me that spring was imminent, and I would mark days off the calendar until the snow cleared for good and the temperature was consistently warm.

I first discovered Meyer lemons when my friend Kathy gifted me a bagful from the extremely productive tree in her Pasadena backyard. Kathy was overrun with lemons and was almost to the point of building a stand on the sidewalk in front of her house to give them away to passersby. I would hit her up several times during the winter for Meyers and I used every last one of them.

Meyer lemons are a lemon-orange hybrid. That makes them a bit sweeter than a regular lemon, but nowhere near as sweet as an orange. They’re in season from November to May, and I use them liberally in both baking and cooking.

In June 2006 Dan and I planted a Meyer lemon tree in our backyard. We got a few lemons the first year and more than a dozen last year. This winter our little tree is taking a rest, and Kathy’s has finally retired after almost a century of service, so this winter I’ll have to rely on the farmers’ markets for my Meyer fix.

 
Meyer Lemon-Ginger Cupcakes with Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes a dozen cupcakes

I use what I call vegan half-and-half in these cupcakes: half light coconut milk, half unsweetened almond milk. If you want to use dairy half-and-half, go ahead. If the spice is too tame for you, add more ginger.

Cupcakes
Canola oil spray (if not using baking cups)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 scant cup sugar
1 heaping teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs, room temperature
⅓ cup canola oil
½ cup light coconut milk
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
Juice and grated peel of 1 medium Meyer lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
Pinch sea salt
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons light coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare muffin pan by lining with baking cups or spraying with canola oil.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, ginger, baking powder and salt.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, canola oil, coconut milk, almond milk, lemon juice, grated lemon peel, and vanilla. Stir dry ingredients into wet. Spoon batter into muffin cups to ¾ full and bake 18-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer cupcakes to rack to cool completely, about an hour.
4. For the frosting: In a medium mixing bowl, using a hand mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter, lemon juice and salt. Beat in ½ cup confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon coconut milk until combined. Beat in second ½ cup of confectioners’ sugar and the second teaspoon of coconut milk until combined, followed by the last ½ cup of confectioners’ sugar. Taste it. Do you think it’s sweet enough? If you want to add more sugar, go ahead. You’ll probably need to add a bit more coconut milk as well. When all ingredients have been combined, add vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
5. Make sure cupcakes have cooled completely before attempting to frost. Trust me on this. When cupcakes have cooled completely, frost and serve. The butter in the frosting will melt, so refrigerate if you’re not serving these right away; same with the leftovers. They’ll keep in the fridge for about 3 days and are quite delicious cold. And for breakfast.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Not a Foodie


Webster’s Eleventh defines foodie as: a person having an avid interest in the latest food fads.  I’m not a foodie. I’m way too picky and disinterested in most fads, whether you consume them or wear them.

When anyone calls me a foodie, I smile and accept what that person intends as a compliment.  I don’t refer the person to the dictionary or launch into a diatribe of how wrong he or she is. I don’t tell the usually well-intended person that foodies eat all kinds of stuff I would never even consider, and that there is a whole world of cuisine that I probably will not ever attempt to cook (sweetbreads, haggis, tripe, insert your favorite cooked animal organ here). Many foodies wear as a badge of honor the wait times they’ve withstood to get into the newest restaurants. If someone tells me I have to wait longer than 15 minutes to eat, I will bail.

Though I rail against the foodie convention, I think I may have inadvertently hopped on the bandwagon with my love for breakfast cakes. What makes a breakfast cake different from a regular cake? Frosting is really the only difference I can come up with.  (Full disclosure: I’ve eaten cake with frosting for breakfast.) Probably a little less sugar, too. When I know there’s cake, breakfast or otherwise, I wake up happier and more eager to start the day. I think most people wouldn’t be so quick to start arguments or even wars if they knew a breakfast cake was waiting for them in the kitchen.

Coconut–Dark Chocolate Breakfast Cake
Makes 9 servings

My justification for chocolate in a breakfast cake: Dark chocolate is less sweet so it’s okay. I like to chop chocolate for this rather than use chocolate chips because the shavings from the chocolate add a lot of flavor that you just don’t get with chocolate chips. But, if you want to use chocolate chips, have at it, brothers and sisters.

Canola oil spray
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
¾ cup light coconut milk
⅓ cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅓ cup shredded unsweetened coconut plus 1½ tablespoons
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, or ½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray 8x8 baking pan with canola oil.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate large bowl, whisk together eggs, coconut milk, canola oil and vanilla extract. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet until combined. Stir in ⅓ cup coconut and chocolate.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle remaining 1½ tablespoons coconut over the batter and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.
4. Cool in pan and serve warm or at room temperature. Store, covered, in the pan for a couple of days.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Converted


There are dog people and cat people, beach people and mountain people, frosting people and anti-frosting people. While I remain a dog and beach person, I have recently converted from anti-frosting to frosting.

I find most frosting—commercial, homemade (except my mom’s), sent by aliens—way too sweet and plastic-tasting.  I don’t do many baked things with frosting, and when I do I work very hard to make sure the frosting is edible. Max follows me on the frosting, and he normally won’t even taste it. He only recently began eating cake-like products, and his MO is to scrape off the frosting then dig in to the cake part.

For some reason the frosting below, which I adapted from a recipe I found in the April 2010 issue of Bon Appétit, converted both Max and me so suddenly and so forcefully, we actually licked the frosting bowl clean. Even as a kid I never did that. Max and I were both so taken with this frosting, he convinced me to make a cake a few days later with the exact same frosting. Same effect. It was like crack! Or, rather, how I imagine those who are partial to crack would feel after having consumed crack.

Despite what the food pundits may postulate, the cupcake is alive and kicking. There’s no need to go to a bakery and spend $4 on a cupcake when you can make something even better in your own kitchen. And, if you’re compelled to consume just the frosting, no shande*, go right ahead.

*Shande is Yiddish for shame.

Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter–Chocolate Frosting
Makes 12 cupcakes
Adapted from Bon Appétit, April 2010

Use really good chocolate and a peanut butter that you love. I used Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate (60% cacao, my favorite) and Whole Foods’ 365 brand Organic Creamy Peanut Butter. Be sure not to use the all-natural peanut butter that separates and requires stirring. It doesn’t work, and if you are a sensitive baker you may end up crying.

Cupcakes
Canola oil spray (if you’re not using baking cups)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
3 extremely ripe, medium bananas, peeled and mashed
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
⅓ cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting
cups confectioners’ sugar
1 stick unsalted butter (8 tablespoons), softened
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
½ cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt
Chopped roasted and salted peanuts for topping (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking pan with muffin cups or spray lightly with canola oil.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and sea salt. In another large mixing bowl, whisk together bananas, sugar, eggs, canola oil and vanilla. Stir dry ingredients into wet until well combined.
3. Spoon batter into muffin cups to ¾ full and bake 18-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer cupcakes to rack to cool completely, about an hour.
4. For the frosting: Sift sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients. Using an electric mixer, beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes.
5. When cupcakes are completely cool, frost them. If you want to add chopped peanuts, now’s the time. Serve and refrigerate the leftovers for up to 3 days. Get your entire face into the frosting bowl and get rid of leftovers with gusto and absolutely no guilt. Take photos of your frosting-laden face and distribute to friends and family.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Other Man


Mark Bittman, who writes the Minimalist column in the Dining section of the New York Times, is the one man I’d leave my husband for. He’s a smart, funny, tall, handsome Jewish guy who cooks. And, since he cooks, I’m willing to bet he knows his way around a dishwasher.

My crush developed after I began reading his column, long before the Times added accompanying videos and I knew what he looked like or heard his mellifluous voice. My feelings developed slowly. I wasn’t interested in him because of something as shallow as physical beauty. Every man I’ve ever been attracted to because of the way he looked has turned out to be a complete dick. There are no exceptions to this phenomenon, and this goes back as far as the fifth grade. That MB is always ready to crack wise and makes cooking accessible, fun and easy just makes him more scrumptious.

For as long as I can remember, the thought of making candy petrified me. There was a Minimalist column a few years ago on peanut brittle. I read the recipe, watched the video on the Times site, and I made peanut brittle. Easy and delicious.

I am not so blinded by MB’s culinary charm, though, that I can discard my picky eating habits. For me, his recipes fall into three categories: 1. Perfect as is; 2. Needs some adjusting, but then perfect; and 3. Yuck. Will not attempt. Recipes in the third category are rare, and though I may not attempt them, sometimes they inspire me despite their grossness.

Last year MB did a Minimalist column and video the subject of which was a vegan Mexican Chocolate Pudding made with tofu. Now, I’m all about the vegan love, but I. hate. tofu. While I was watching him concoct this pudding and debating whether I really had to throw up or only felt like it, I got the idea for a Mexican chocolate chip cookie. I wrote the recipe and later that morning baked my first batch of New Mexican Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I’m happy to share with you today the product that was born of something that initially made me want to hurl. I don’t hold that tofu pudding against Mark Bittman. There should be ample room for differing tastes and opinions in any relationship. Even when those relationships are imaginary.

New Mexican Chocolate Chip Cookies
Vegan
Makes 3 dozen cookies

Please use real maple syrup when you make these. No corn syrup or artificial colors or flavors are needed. These are also really good for ice cream sandwiches if you are so inclined. Use soy or coconut milk ice cream to keep the vegan theme going. If you want more heat, use more chile powder. I used chopped, toasted almonds in the first batch I made, and the general consensus is that the batch with almonds is superior to the batch without. I made them optional here, so listen to your heart. That’s what I always do.

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup almond meal or finely ground almonds
½ cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground New Mexico chile powder (or another mild ground chile)
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1½ sticks) Earth Balance or other vegan margarine, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup vegan chocolate chips (I like Whole Foods’ 365 brand)
½ cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped (optional, but extremely delicious)

1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Line baking sheet with parchment. If you don’t want to use parchment, no worries, just don’t grease the baking sheet.
2. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, almond meal, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and chile powder. In large bowl, whisk together Earth Balance, maple syrup, sugars, applesauce and vanilla. Stir flour mixture into butter-sugar mixture until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Stir in almonds, if using.
3. Drop rounded teaspoons of dough onto baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to cooling rack. When completely cooled, store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Nose


 
Two pregnancy phenomena have stayed with me, even though I gave birth almost 19 years ago: curly hair and a heightened sense of smell. I keep waiting for them both to subside, but so far no luck.

While I was pregnant with Max, I could smell the garlic salami at the Grand Street Market in Little Italy from the entrance to my office on Broadway and Prince in New York. If the wind shifted in just the right direction, I could also smell the remnants at the Fulton Fish Market as I headed down Broadway toward Canal. Because of this, I had an extremely rough first trimester, during which all I could keep down were unfrosted blueberry Pop-Tarts and Ben & Jerry’s Maine Blueberry Ice Cream.

Sense of smell can also trigger a torrent of memories. Walking by the Christmas wreaths at Trader Joe’s the other day, the scent of evergreen was so overpowering, it brought me back to when I was nine years old and picking out a Christmas tree. As soon as I passed the wreaths, a short man near the apples assaulted me with his cologne, reminding me of my former morning commute on the number 2 train. It seems like everything I take into my nostrils transports me back home, to New York.

Rain smells the same to me regardless of where I am. When it starts to rain in November in Los Angeles, I am reassured that Mother Nature hasn’t abandoned me. I know she’s gearing up to transform the brown mountains surrounding me into a vibrant green for a few weeks in February. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for this.

The aroma of banana bread baking is one of the few things that will draw the men in my house away from whatever they’re intensely involved with to wander into the kitchen and find out, “When’s the banana bread gonna be done?” I always know that whatever’s going on, banana bread will always bind me to my husband and son.

Though I miss the wondrous olfactory gift basket that is New York, when the wind is just right, it brings me the salt of the Pacific Ocean from 30 or so miles away. I like to think that’s Mother Nature’s way of letting me know she’s always close by, no matter where I live.

Banana Bread
Vegan
Makes one loaf

This makes a great breakfast after a night of overindulgence, whether your poison is Danny McBride films, Hawaiian pizza or Southern Comfort. It’s easy to put together, and you don’t have to run the potentially head-splitting electric mixer. Pecan meal adds a lightness to baked goods that is beyond compare. If you can’t find pecan meal, don’t fret. You can either grind pecans finely in a food processor or substitute almond meal, which is just as delicious. If you do use almond meal, you may want to sub toasted almonds for pecans.

Canola oil spray
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup pecan meal (or finely ground pecans)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 very ripe, medium bananas, mashed to resemble pudding
⅔ cup brown sugar, packed
⅓ cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon granulated sugar for sanding

1.  Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray 9x5 loaf pan with canola oil. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, pecan meal, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the bananas, brown sugar, canola oil and vanilla. Gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet until combined. Stir in pecans.
3. Spoon batter into loaf pan. Sprinkle the teaspoon of sugar on top of batter. Bake 40-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in loaf pan on wire rack for 15 minutes before turning it out to cool further. Slice and serve while warm or cooled to room temperature. Transfer remaining loaf to an airtight container, where it will remain tasty for up to 3 days.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Julia


Julia Child has always been an inspiration to me. I’ve read many of her books, and The Way to Cook is one of my favorite cookbooks. Julia was also completely hilarious. Someone who is funny and can cook will always have my admiration.

One morning I was too goofy to write, so I did what I sometimes do when I can’t think: watch TV. The day before I had written for a full eight hours and needed some not-writing time. I’m not one of those writers who will sit at my desk when I don’t have an idea. The great Flannery O’Connor sat at her desk every day for at least two hours. Sometimes she wrote, sometimes she didn’t. I can’t do this. I will get up in the middle of the night if I awake with an idea or a first line comes to me, but I can’t sit at my computer waiting for the muse. She is often at Starbucks drinking a soy chai latte and eating an apple fritter. And, of course, she never gains weight.

So I plopped onto the couch and looked at my viewing choices. There were no crime shows on, which bummed me out. Nothing like solving a murder to wake up the brain. Then I saw that public television was airing episodes of The French Chef with Julia. I hesitated. The reason is, I tried to watch this series on DVD about four years ago and was unable to stop laughing. See, Max and I had just watched Saturday Night Live: The Best of Dan Aykroyd and his Julia Child was stuck firmly in my mind. I returned all three disks of The French Chef to Netflix unwatched.

I decided to give The French Chef another go. Julia beat the eggs for her omelet with chopsticks and said not to let the butter get too brown or “it has a cheap taste.” I cannot believe how much I learned in these few episodes! Not just stuff about cooking, either. Julia’s show is such a refreshing change from the today’s slick Food Network fare (Ina Garten excluded). Julia is unapologetically herself and when she instructed the audience “if you’re alone in the kitchen” to use their hands to shape an omelet, I laughed out loud. Not only because it was funny, but because who hasn’t done that? You can tell that these shows are sans script and all Julia. She tells it like it is. Cooking is messy, things don’t always go as planned and a lot of times you have to punt. Kinda like life.

This is my favorite quote of all time: “No one is born a great cook. One learns by doing. This is my invariable advice to people: Learn to cook—try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” Julia said it, Julia meant it and Julia lived it.

This quote hangs on my refrigerator, and I try to live by these words every day. I also use my hands to fix stuff all the time. But that’s just between us.

Double Chocolate Muffins
Makes a dozen muffins

I think Julia would dig these muffins because I used butter and room-temperature eggs, and they are just a third of a cup of sugar and a dollop of frosting away from being a cupcake. They’re also a surefire way to get a sleepy teenager to wander into the kitchen before 10 on a Saturday morning and ask with interest, “What are you making?” I used unsweetened chocolate almond milk, but unsweetened regular or vanilla almond milk works just as well. If you want to use real milk, that’s okay, too. No judgment, man. If you want to add nuts, I’d go with toasted almonds or hazelnuts.

Canola oil spray (if you’re not using baking cups)
cups all-purpose flour
½ cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
⅓ cup sugar
⅓ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon instant espresso 
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
½ cup unsweetened chocolate almond milk
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare muffin pan by lining with baking cups or spraying with canola oil.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, espresso and salt.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together butter, almond milk, eggs and vanilla and almond extracts. Stir dry ingredients into wet until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
4. Spoon batter into muffin cups until ¾ full. Bake 18 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer muffins to rack to cool completely. And if you drop one on the floor, just dust it off and act like nothing happened. No one will know!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Birthday Cake


If I had been Oscar Hammerstein II, I would have included birthday cake in “My Favorite Things” when I was writing the lyrics for The Sound of Music. And if Richard Rogers gave me any guff, I would have had him fired. This is how much I love birthday cake.

My mom used to get me a coconut cake every year. It was the rule in our house that the person whose birthday it was had first dibs on the leftover cake for breakfast the next morning. Of course, this rule wasn’t always obeyed, and we kids found ourselves getting up earlier and earlier the day after each birthday. When I moved out on my own, not having a birthday cake was one of the things I truly missed. I shied away from buying an entire cake for myself, knowing full well I’d eat the whole thing, and, really, it never occurred to me until recently to bake my own cake.

When I turned 40, Dan threw me a wonderful surprise party at one of my favorite restaurants― because he didn’t want me to have to clean anything up. That was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received! Dan got me a carrot cake from Portos, my favorite bakery. When I say this is the best bakery in the universe, I am not employing hyperbole. It’s family owned and operated, and there is always a long line no matter what day or time you go. However crazy it gets, and it gets really crazy, the people working behind the counters never get irritated and are always extremely kind and patient. As long as I’ve been going there, they’ve never once screwed up an order.

The Portos carrot cake, while delicious, has raisins. I eat raisins only by themselves or with nuts; I don’t like them in cookies, cakes, cereal or muffins.  That’s the only downside to that cake. It has pineapple and coconut and is topped with the only cream cheese frosting I’ve ever eaten that doesn’t make my teeth hurt.

I decided to try my hand at my own version of the Portos carrot cake―in cupcake form. I left out the raisins and the walnuts and I made a buttercream frosting instead of a cream cheese one. Feel free to make these even when it’s not your birthday, because I think it’s safe to say that every day there is someone somewhere celebrating the passing of another year.

Carrot-Coconut Cupcakes with Toasted Coconut Buttercream Frosting
Makes a dozen cupcakes

Keep an eye on the coconut when you’re toasting it. It can go from almost golden to scorched in a matter of seconds. Speaking from experience here again, kids.

Cupcakes
Canola oil spray (if not using baking cups)
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
⅓ cup canola oil
¼ cup light coconut milk
¾ cup sugar
½ cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups peeled, grated carrot (about 3 medium carrots)
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Frosting
Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) butter, softened
1½ cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons light coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅓ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare muffin pan by lining with baking cups or lightly greasing and flouring.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together butter, sugar, eggs, coconut milk and vanilla. Stir in grated carrots and coconut. Spoon batter into muffin cups until ¾ full and bake 18 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer muffins to rack to cool completely, which takes about an hour. Make sure cupcakes have cooled completely before attempting to frost. Touch them. If they are the slightest bit warm, step away. If you try to frost them when they are even the slightest bit warm, you will end up crying.
4. For the frosting: In a medium mixing bowl, beat together butter and confectioner’s sugar in ½-cup increments, followed by some coconut milk with each sugar addition. Keep repeating the sugar/coconut milk additions and taste after each one. You don’t want heart-attack-caliber sweetness here. When all ingredients have been combined, mix in vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of the toasted coconut and mix to combine. Frost each cupcake and top with remaining toasted coconut. The butter in the frosting will melt, so refrigerate if you’re not serving these right away; same with the leftovers. They’ll be okay, covered, in the fridge for a few days.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Answering the Call


My real calling in life, I think, is cookies. Baking cookies seems to be something I do well, something I like and something that other people really dig. Eating cookies is also something I do well, but I try to practice this in moderation lest my behind grow too enormous. Other than building someone a bridge, I can’t think of a better way to honor someone than by creating a cookie for her. My sister, Wendy, deserves her own special cookie.

I’ve written about Wendy before , and I was lucky enough this fall to spend time with Wendy and her family in Rhinebeck, New York, where they live. Rhinebeck is about an hour north of where Wendy and I grew up in Dutchess County, and it is one of my favorite places to be. Not just because the fall in Dutchess County is absolutely gorgeous, but because Wendy, her husband, Seth, and their kids, Seth and Sammi, are a lot of fun to be around. We did a lot of laughing, and Sammi and I did some damage in the kitchen (the good kind) and watched iCarly, which I thought was pretty funny.

When I came back to California, I missed them intensely. It was weird that no one was calling me Aunt Lori—Seth as well as the kids called me this!—and it took me at least a week to realize that when someone threw a “Honey” or “Mom” in my direction, he was actually addressing me.

Sammi and I were supposed to bake chocolate chip cookies before I left, but we kept forgetting (damn you, iCarly!). Wendy got all the stuff for us, including a bag of Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips. Maybe I kept “forgetting” to bake the cookies because the milk chocolate chips kind of scared me. I generally use dark chocolate or semisweet chocolate, and I figured the milk chocolate would facilitate an irreversible sugar coma.

When I was coming up with the ingredients that would comprise the Missing Wendy Cookie, the first thing I thought of was the milk chocolate chips. I figured it was time to step outside my comfort zone and bake with them. Macadamias and coconut just seemed to go so naturally with the milk chocolate. (Wendy shares my deep, abiding love for coconut.) These three ingredients taste so good together, I almost felt like Ina Garten was standing next to me suggesting what to use next.

Creating a cookie for Wendy is the very least I can do for her. I have my next two visits all planned. Knowing when we will be side by side having a cup of coffee, shopping for makeup and laughing about the latest thing Sammi or Seth said is what will get me through the intervening time apart. Until then, I guess, there are cookies to bake and eat.



Missing Wendy Cookies
Makes about 20 3 ½-inch cookies

I used dry roasted, salted macadamias, and I recommend those. They’re really flavorful and you don’t need to use a lot of salt in the dough. If your cookies come out looking a bit puffy, use my foolproof method for deflating: Whack the baking sheet on the counter a few times until the cookies are no longer puffy. Baking? Never had one lesson!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks (½ pound) unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup granulated sugar (I use Trader Joe’s organic evaporated cane juice)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
⅓ cup all-natural, unsweetened applesauce
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup milk chocolate chips (Wendy and I both like Ghirardelli)
½ cup dry roasted and salted macadamias, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. If you don’t want to use parchment, no worries, just don’t grease the pan.
2. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together butter, brown sugar, sugar, and vanilla.  Whisk in applesauce until combined. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir together until combined. Stir in coconut, chocolate chips, then the macadamias.
3. Drop tablespoonfuls of dough onto the baking sheet. I do 9 per batch because they spread out a bit. Bake 10-11 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool completely. When completely cool, transfer to an airtight container, where they’ll keep for about 3 days, but they probably won’t last that long.

 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee


When my mom used to come home from the A&P bearing the Sara Lee chocolate-swirl pound cake, it’s a wonder she made it through the door alive. My brother, sister and I would rip the bag from her arms and hunker down around that cake much in the same way our Paleolithic brothers and sisters would converge upon a wild boar that had just been brought in for dinner.

Other than my mother’s butter cake, this was, in my estimation, the perfect cake. The taste was buttery, the crumb was light and moist and that chocolate ribbon was sublime. We kids would fight over the “scrapes,” the thin bottom layer of cake that would linger in the tin after a slice was cut. I judged all cakes by the Sara Lee chocolate-swirl pound cake.

I was very unhappy to find out that Sara Lee chocolate-swirl pound cake is no longer available. It has been replaced by a strawberry-swirl pound cake, which sounds too gross to contemplate. I wish I knew why Sara Lee made this switch. I have too much faith in mankind to believe it prefers a strawberry-swirl cake to a chocolate-swirl one. Until this is rectified, it’s up to us to carry on and make and eat chocolate-swirl pound cakes. Pull out your loaf pan today and join me in this righteous action, won’t you? And, if you want to write to the Sara Lee company to complain, well, that’s entirely up to you.

Since I Sara Lee has hung me out to dry, I had to try my hand at making this pound cake. When it’s cold out of the fridge the day after I make it, it almost tastes like the Sara Lee pound cake. Almost.
  
Chocolate-Swirl Pound Cake with Coconut
Makes about 12 servings
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Pound Cake in How to Cook Everything

If you want to dispense with the coconut, go right ahead. I know not everyone loves coconut the way I do. But…this pound cake is really good with the coconut. No pressure, though. In MB’s original recipe he uses cocoa powder, but I’m glad I used melted chocolate because it makes a thick fudgy ribbon that says, “Aren’t I incredible?” every time you bite into it. This is especially true when you eat it for breakfast.

Canola oil spray
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (½ pound) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
⅓ cup shredded unsweetened coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Spray 9x5 loaf pan with canola oil.
2. In medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
3. In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter until it’s smooth. Add the sugar ½ cup at a time until it’s incorporated. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Don’t beat, but stir dry ingredients into wet until just combined. Stir in the vanilla.
4. Whisk together melted chocolate and about ½ cup of the cake batter.
5. Stir the coconut into the remaining batter. Pour half of the cake batter into the loaf pan. Then pour the chocolate mixture on top of that. Use a knife or spatula to swirl the chocolate mixture. Pour the remainder of the cake batter on top of that.
6. Bake 40-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and allow to cool fully on rack before slicing and serving. Transfer to airtight container, where it will keep for 2 or 3 days. I like to put it in the fridge, but if you don’t roll that way, no worries.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Peanut Butter Chips


For a few months I had been thinking of writing and testing some recipes with peanut butter chips. So when I was at Whole Foods one day, I bought a package of Sunspire peanut butter chips. From the moment I ate one, I knew I would never be the same. However, I didn’t count on having to go to peanut butter–chip rehab.

Peanut butter chips are my baker’s crack. Forget about pink sea salt, obscure Tahitian vanilla or Valrhona chocolate. I will shiv you over a cup of Sunspire peanut butter chips.

I figured one 10-ounce bag would be enough for two batches of cookies. I didn’t account for mainlining them, so, I am embarrassed to say I tore through several bags of chips— only a few cups of which actually found their way into cookies.

By the time I finally got the cookie recipes squared away, I am happy to report I had reached a peanut butter–chip saturation point.  I could walk down the baking aisle without even looking at the bags of peanut butter chips. Though they called to me in the sweetest of tones, I walked on, ignoring them. It was hard at first, and there were times when I almost broke down and added them to my shopping cart. But I kept reminding myself of two very important facts with regard to continuous peanut butter–chip consumption: Buying new, larger-size pants every week gets expensive, and having teeth that can get you mistaken for a Dickens character is just so 1836.

Someday I may be able to resume a casual relationship with peanut butter chips. In fact, just yesterday I saw them, said good morning and kept going. I think I’m moving in the right direction.  My goals right now are humble: to wear the same size pants week after week and not frighten other people when I smile at them.

Dark Chocolate-Peanut Butter Chip Cookies
Makes about 30 cookies

I am partial to dark chocolate, but you can sub semisweet chips here if dark chocolate doesn’t do it for you. Make sure you allow the melted butter to cool or your little dollops of dough will morph into one big cookie. I speak from experience here, kids.

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon instant espresso
½ teaspoon salt
1½ sticks (¾ cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
½ cup peanut butter chips

1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Line baking sheet with parchment. If you don’t want to use parchment, no worries. Just don’t grease the baking sheet.
2. In medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, espresso and salt. In large bowl, whisk together butter, sugars, applesauce and vanilla. Stir flour mixture into butter-sugar mixture until combined. Stir in chocolate and peanut butter chips. Feel free to eat the rest of the peanut butter chips if you’re not worried about declining dental health or an exponentially expanding butt.
3. Drop teaspoonfuls of dough onto baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 9 minutes. If cookies are a little puffy, hit the baking sheet against your counter to deflate. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to rack. When completely cooled, store in airtight container for up to 3 days.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Firsts


I spent my childhood watching my mother create everything from chocolate chip cookies to marinara sauce to mashed potatoes to chili to chicken cacciatore using her trusty wooden spoon. I thought she could make anything using that wooden spoon. I was convinced the spoon had magic powers. Until the day I tried to use it myself.

It was my mother’s birthday, and I wanted to bake her a cake—a butter cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. My mother had made this cake more times than I could count, and I wanted mine to be as good as hers. I had it all planned. While she was at work I would create a masterpiece and surprise her when she got home. I was 11, and it was the end of July in New York’s Hudson Valley. In case you’ve never been to the Hudson Valley in summer, the humidity is on par with the jungles of Vietnam.

Dripping with sweat, even though it was morning and I had my hair pulled up into a pony and was wearing a tank top and shorts, I turned on the oven and got out the red-covered Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. I followed the cake recipe scrupulously, measuring and mixing with the concentration of Roger Clemens before steroids. But when I tried to remove it from the pan, it came out in pieces. Big pieces. If I were ever close to a nervous collapse, it was on July 20, 1975, when my flippin’ cake wouldn’t stick together. I couldn’t start over. I needed the remaining butter for the frosting. I couldn’t cruise to the A&P for more butter. I was 11. I thought of pitching the cake, but I just couldn’t do it. I had to find a way to make it presentable.

After the sobbing had given way to short, hiccupy breaths, I soldiered on to make the buttercream. I let go the failure of the cake and got Zen about the frosting. This technique worked, and the buttercream was a winner. I had the bright idea to glue the big pieces of cake together with the frosting and then frost the rest of the cake so no one would be the wiser. At first glance the cake looked pretty normal. However, when my mother, who was very pleased with my effort, tried to cut into it, the walls came tumbling down and my anti-cake was revealed. She smiled and dubbed it a spoon cake, because that’s how we ate it. The taste was perfect—the cake was moist and buttery, the frosting silky and sweet—and it was completely devoured by the next day. (My brother and sister helped there.)

So, when I moved into my first apartment in New York City, a renovated factory building a block from the World Trade Center, the first piece of kitchen equipment I bought was a wooden spoon. I still have it. I’ve made chicken cacciatore, chili, soups, pastas, casseroles, cookies, muffins, cakes, custards and everything in between using the spoon I bought for $3 at the Food Emporium on Greenwich Street 27 years ago. And I think my wooden spoon might possess a little magic, too.

Almost Almond Joy Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

Me: Hi, my name is Lori, and I’m obsessed with coconut. You: Hi, Lori. Obsessions aside, I think I’m onto something with these muffins. Ever since I threw a few the UPS guy’s way, my packages have been placed neatly on my front porch instead of being haphazardly chucked into my rosemary bush.

12 whole, toasted almonds
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar plus more for sanding
⅓ cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon salt
⅓ cup canola oil
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Place 12 almonds on baking sheet and toast until you can smell them, about 7 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
2. Put baking cups in muffin pan or lightly grease and flour the pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, ¾ cup sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, espresso, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together canola oil, almond milk, eggs, and vanilla extract. Add dry ingredients to wet, and mix until combined. Fold in coconut; fold in chocolate chips. The batter may seem a bit runny. Don’t you worry. It’s perfect. Fill each baking cup ½ of the way with batter, drop in 1 roasted almond, and then fill the rest of the baking cup to ¾ full. Take a pinch of sugar and sprinkle enough to cover top of each muffin lightly. Bake 18-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted close to center comes out clean. (You can’t insert it all the way through the center because the almond is there.)
4. Turn muffins out onto wire rack to cool. These can be eaten while still warm or completely cooled, whatever floats your boat.

 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wendy and Seattle


Returning to Seattle this week for the Foodista cookbook release party was a blast, and I was so happy to get to visit this amazing city again. My first visit, last June, with my sister, Wendy, and our mom was still with me. (Really, it has stayed with me this entire year.) In the evenings my mother would retire early, and Wendy and I were left to our own devices. We did a ton of walking, eating, talking and giggling. I also discovered a food item that changed my life: a chocolatine.

A chocolatine is a chocolate croissant with almond cream, and it is the finest thing I have ever eaten.  Wendy and I found the chocolatine at Le Panier in Seattle’s world-famous Pike Place Market.


When I returned to Le Panier this week, I was once again greeted at the door by the glorious smell of sugar, butter and flour.  After I got my chocolatine and a cup of some of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, I took a seat at the counter, which faces the market. I ate my chocolatine while reading the Seattle Times and occasionally looking up at all the shopkeepers readying themselves for the day. The chocolatine was delicious and the weather gorgeous, but I was really missing Wendy, and no amount of chocolate can make up for that. I can’t believe I just wrote that.

Wendy is a great friend. She’s smart, hilarious, easy to talk to and has the best hair of anyone I know. We never got to do the sister thing as kids—I’m eight years older—so I am so happy we are doing the sister thing as adults. Her birthday is in a few weeks and I’m creating a cookie especially for her, which you’ll see here soon.

When I got home from Seattle last year, I wanted to create and post something chocolaty and almondy—a sort of homage to the chocolatine. I wound up with this breakfast cake and posted it to the old Stuff to Eat (RIP) last June. I suggest making it some rainy morning when you’re missing someone you love and only the smell of something  sweet baking in the oven will make you feel better.

Banana-Chocolate Chip-Almond Breakfast Cake
Vegan
Makes 9 servings

The riper your bananas, the better. Mottled bananas rule! I love the 365 brand vegan semisweet chocolate chips at Whole Foods, but feel free to use whichever chips float your boat. I also used whole wheat pastry flour, because that’s all I had, but you can sub any kind you like. You don’t need a lot of fat here, so don’t be worried that there’s only 1 tablespoon of canola oil. That’s the beauty of baking with bananas: moisture and richness without fat.

Canola oil spray
1½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
4 small or 3 medium, very ripe bananas, mashed well
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup semisweet vegan chocolate chips
½ cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray 8x8 baking pan with canola oil.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together bananas, sugar, applesauce, canola oil and vanilla extract. Pour dry ingredients into wet and stir until combined. Stir in chocolate chips and almonds.
3. Pour batter into prepared pan and make sure it’s evenly distributed. Bake 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on rack and slice when still warm or at room temperature. You can store the cake, covered, in the baking pan for about 3 days.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Foodista Cookbook Giveaway!


Tonight in Seattle, one of my favorite cities, I’m attending the party Foodista is hosting for The Best of Food Blogs Cookbook: 100 Great Recipes, Photographs, and Voices. For the cookbook Foodista chose 100 recipes out of the more than 1,500 submissions, and they were kind enough to include my Lonely for London Cookies.

 

This recipe first appeared on the original Stuff to Eat, which I started in February 2009 and inadvertently deleted in September 2010. You’re probably thinking, It’s hard to delete a whole blog. It’s really not, and it’s really gone. Totally gone. I have all the original content and photos on my hard drive, and I’m working diligently to post it all here. The original post for the cookies appeared on May 6, 2009, which was why it was eligible for the Foodista cookbook.

The Foodista cookbook is really cool. It features all kinds of recipes from bloggers the world over. If you order the cookbook today from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. PDT, you’ll be eligible for a bunch of swell prizes. Click here for more info, and click here to order the book.