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.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Thanks, Martha!


I used to be a member of the Really Spontaneous Theater Company, an extraordinarily talented group of improv actors with whom I’ve acted very silly in front of paying customers for a number of years. We started working together in New York in the mid-80s and formed our current group after Dan and I moved to Los Angeles in 1997. We’ve done a lot of great shows during our time together, but the one that stands out the most for me is RockuMockumentary, an improvised musical parody of VH-1’s Behind the Music. We all played multiple characters and we all had to improvise music and dialogue not only as our characters but as certain celebrities. Some people, my good friend and fellow castmate Jim Meskimen in particular, excel at impersonating others. This is not a talent I possess. But, everyone else was doing it, so I had to step up to the plate.

There was a section in the middle of the show where a bunch of celebrities talk about how the fictitious band that the show is based on has affected each celeb’s life. The only celebrity I could even come close to impersonating was Martha Stewart, who I characterized as a lock-jawed stiff who overpronounced her consonants. The one thing I had in my favor was that the show ran during the time Martha was in the slammer. I cannot even begin to calculate the mileage I got from having my Martha use street slang to discuss her tats, bitches and various pieces of homemade weaponry she now prided herself in creating. Martha always brought down the house. I knew it had nothing to do with my impersonation and everything to do with Martha’s plight.

One night toward the end of the show’s run, I was feeling pretty tapped out with regard to what new kinds of jailhouse high jinks Martha could be involved with. Since I had been doing improv for a very long time, I learned that the best stuff came out when I didn’t think too much. That night turned out to be a revelation. When it was Martha’s turn to talk about the band, I started out by recounting the batch of pear-ginger muffins I had whipped up in my latrine the previous evening, inspired by the fake band’s newest CD. Not only did the audience howl for what seemed like five minutes, but it got me thinking that I could probably whip these up myself in the kitchen. So here they are.

I have nothing but respect for Martha, and the fact that her plight inspired so much laughter―and good muffins―is just another feather in her cap as far as I’m concerned. For reals, yo.

Thank You Martha Muffins
Makes a dozen muffins

Using firm pears makes all the difference here. When I was chopping them, I was thinking, Crap, I’m gonna have to make another batch because these pears are too hard. Not so! The pears had great flavor and texture in the muffins. I switched out applesauce for eggs because I wanted to add to the pear flavor, and I liked the taste much better than when I used eggs.  This recipe can easily walk on the vegan side by substituting soy yogurt for the sour cream and Earth Balance or another nondairy margarine for the butter. If you go with Earth Balance, I’d use less salt, especially in the crumb topping, because I find Earth Balance a bit salty.

Crumb topping
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup almond meal
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon sea salt

Muffin
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1½ sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup sour cream
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups peeled, chopped pears (2 ripe but firm pears)

1. To make the topping: combine all ingredients in a bowl and, with clean hands, work through until mixture resembles crumbs. Set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare a muffin pan by lining with baking cups or lightly greasing and flouring. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, ginger and cinnamon.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter, applesauce, sour cream, almond milk, sugar and vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix together. Gently stir in the pears.
4. Spoon batter into muffin pan until each cup is ¾ full. Sprinkle each muffin with crumb topping. Bake 23-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool about 10 minutes in the pan before transferring to rack. Leave them alone for at least 30 minutes before diving in; let cool completely before transferring to a container. I recommend eating these within 2 days.