Sunday, March 1, 2015

Peanut Butter, Death & Taxes

What a great start to March. It's dark, cold, snowy…why not spend the day doing taxes? Oh sure, I could have gone to brunch, had a mani/pedi, seen one of the Oscar flicks that I missed...but why, when the call of the IRS was so strong? Having a glass of wine seemed sadly, wrong, what with all of the simple arithmetic and attempts to figure out my farm income and alimony received. TMI? 

Baking is a good procrastinatory measure and a little sugar never hurts when math is involved. This peanut butter cookie recipe ran in the NY Times late last year and is a pretty close approximation to the City Bakery peanut butter cookie (in case you are a fan). Normally I stick with my simplified, 5 ingredient version, but this one is pretty…pretty…pretty good. I like that the name references one of my favorite packaged cookies of all time: The Pecan Sandie, or, as Keebler officially calls them, the Keebler Sandies Pecan Shortbread cookies. (With registered trademarks throughout too BTW.) This particular recipe makes a much saltier, denser and softer variety than Keebler (and also peanut obvi) and I highly recommend giving them a try, even if you aren't doing your taxes.  And I'm not anymore…cuz I'm done! JEALOUS??

Peanut Butter Sandies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups unsweetened peanut butter, creamy or chunky
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
Flaky sea salt and coarse sugar for sprinkling (or use kosher salt and granulated sugar)

1. Heat the oven to 350˚F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick liners. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until smooth and fluffy, at least 3 minutes. Add the peanut butter and eggs, and mix. Add the flour and salt and mix just until well combined, with no white flour showing.

2. Using a small cookie scoop (about 2 teaspoons capacity), scoop dough onto the prepared pans. The tops will be rounded but craggy. The cookies will not spread much or change shape when they bake, so they can be placed quite close together, but leave room for air circulation so they can brown.

3. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons sugar with 1 tablespoon salt. Sprinkle each cookie lightly with sugar-salt mixture, getting it into the crags and crannies. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are set and golden-brown. Carefully lift or slide off baking sheets and cool on racks. Store in layers separated by parchment paper, in airtight containers.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Blue Apron Optional

Guys? Hey, guys? Anyone?? I'm finally back from an extended commercial break! I can't believe that I have been MIA for so long that Thanksgiving and Christmas have come and gone without a single holiday baking post from moi. (And I shockingly only made one batch of cookies over the entire holiday season.) Speaking of the holidays, after traveling for a majority of the time, coming home to an empty kitchen definitely provided enough temptation to order in, until I remembered that I had a delivery coming from Blue Apron. Sorry, Seamless.

Pre-packaged meal delivery is not necessarily something that I would seek out, but since I was getting my first delivery for free I figured that I might as well check it out. In my box I received the ingredients for three meals for two: pulled chicken tacos, beef bolognese and Thai coconut shrimp soup. The problem is, you have to be in the mood to cook and in the mood to eat specifically what is being delivered to you! Upon my delivery, I unpacked the entire box and then proceeded to eat pita chips and hummus because I really didn't feel like cooking. 

Everything was very well planned and packaged, and all of the ingredients were fresh, but I still felt like there was something lacking. On day two I made the pulled chicken tacos, sort of. I froze one chicken breast, cooked the other according to directions, and then skipped the side salad and made guacamole instead. I used the leftover sauce to make black beans and rice two days later. 

On day four I made the Thai shrimp soup. I followed the directions but added fish sauce because there was an overall lack of saltiness to balance out the hot/sour/sweet flavors. I also preferred to serve it more like a curry served over the rice versus a soup with a little bit of rice added in. It was also generously portioned and I ended up eating it for 3 meals.

On day seven I finally got around to making the beef bolognese. (Fear not! I kept checking the expiration dates so that nothing spoiled.) Again I followed the directions but having made bolognese from scratch before, I knew that it was going to be pretty basic. A little too basic for me. I added white wine and diced tomatoes at the point at which BA would have you serve it, and then proceded to simmer it for another 30 minutes. I think it added an acidity and sauciness that otherwise would have been lacking. This was also a very generous portion. The recipe was meant to serve two, but I have managed to extend it for 4 meals. Oh! I forgot to mention that you were supposed to stir brussels sprouts leaves into the sauce at the end. Umm…ok. Random!

I can see how this concept would work for people who have a problem planning and shopping for meals, but I guess I like to be a little more improvisational. There is very little waste, which as a person cooking for one, I do appreciate. Purchasing an entire bunch of cilantro or head of celery when you only need a tablespoon is super annoying since the unused portion often spoils in the fridge. And having someone else locate lemongrass and coconut palm sugar was pretty rad. 

You are given the ability to skip deliveries and to make basic recipe requests (like meat preferences etc.) so I could see doing this once every month or so, but I think for the most part I'll stick to making my usuals and skip the blue apron.

Quick Beef Bolognese

Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons tomato paste
8 ounces ground beef
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
8 ounces fresh pappardelle pasta
1/3 cup parmesan cheese

1. In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium until hot. Add the garlic, carrot, celery, onion and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper. Cook stirring occasionally, 2 - 4 minutes, or until softened and fragrant.

2. Add the tomato paste and cook stirring frequently, 2 - 3 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the beef, season with salt and pepper and cook, breaking the meat apart with a wooden spoon for 4 - 6 minutes, or until browned and cooked through. 

3. Add the wine and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stir to combine, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, heat a medium pot of salted water to boiling on high. Add the pasta and cook for 3 - 4 minutes or until just al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and add directly to the sauce. Toss to coat and add the reserved pasta water as needed to thin the sauce. Remove from the heat and add half of the cheese. Toss to coat and serve with remaining cheese on the side. Serves 2 - 4.

Coconut Red Curry Shrimp

1/2 cup jasmine rice
Vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced
2 stalks lemongrass (tough outer layers removed; one stalk minced and one stalk cut in half and smashed)
1 scallion, sliced (separate the green and white parts and reserve)
1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 (13.5 ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
2 teaspoons coconut palm sugar
1 lime, zested and quartered
1 tablespoon fish sauce
8 ounces shrimp
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

1. In a small pot, heat the rice, 1 cup of water and a pinch of salt to boiling on high. Cover and reduce the heat to low and simmer for 12 - 14 minutes until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. In a medium pot, heat 2 teaspoons of oil on medium-high until hot. Add the garlic, ginger, minced lemongrass and the white parts of the scallion. Cook, stirring frequently, 1 - 2 minutes. Add the bell pepper and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 1 - 2 minutes, or until softened.

3. Add the red curry paste, to taste. Cook, stirring frequently, 1 - 2 minutes or until fragrant.

4. Add the coconut milk, palm sugar, lime zest, fish sauce, reserved lemongrass pieces and 1 cup of water to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 - 4 minutes or until thoroughly combined. 

5. Season the shrimp with salt and add to the soup. Cook, stirring occasionally, 8 - 10 minutes or until opaque and cooked through. Turn off the heat and add half of the cilantro and the juice of two lime wedges. Discard the smashed lemongrass. Serve the curry with the rice and top with the remaining scallions and cilantro and lime wedges. Serves 2 - 4.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Woah. It's mid-October and by looking at this blog you'd think that I've been on permanent summer vacation. I wish! I've just been lazy. And drinking rosé and eating salads. But now that it's nearly Halloween, it's time to see if my oven still works! Once I remove all of the pot and pans that are stored there!

With all of the recent Instagram posts from pumpkin patches and apple orchards, an apple recipe seemed the way to go. Granted this recipe uses one singular apple, but it's the thought that counts. And BT dubs, if you go to an orchard and only want to bring home an apple vs. a bushel, you'll be good to go! 

I randomly have a square muffin tin and it makes these little guys look like cute individual cakes rather than your average muffin. Perhaps along the lines of something that could be sold in an individual package like a Drake's Coffee Cake. The full size, not the junior. (Sometimes I feel like I am living a Seinfeld episode, but I digress…) The point is (what was my point again?) that these are super tasty and my oven still works!

Individual Apple Crumb Cakes
Adapted from Food & Wine

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup sour cream
1 large egg, beaten
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and finely diced

1. Make the streusel: Preheat the oven to 350°F. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, or using a pastry blender in a medium bowl, combine the flour with the brown sugar and salt. Add the butter pieces and mix at medium-low speed until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Continue mixing the streusel until very small clumps form. Refrigerate until it is well chilled, about 10 minutes.

2. Make the crumb cakes: Line 12 standard-size muffin cups with paper liners, or simply butter the muffin tin. In a large bowl, combine the flour with the granulated sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Add the butter pieces and cut in with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the sour cream and beaten egg and mix until the batter is smooth. Add the diced apple and stir just until incorporated.

3. Fill the muffin cups halfway with the crumb cake batter. Press the streusel into clumps and sprinkle on top. Bake the crumb cakes in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes, until risen, golden and springy to the touch. Rotate the pans halfway through baking. Let the crumb cakes cool slightly before serving. Makes 12.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Have it Your Way

Summer weekends may have come to an end, but it's still hot, hot, hot! I spent most of my summer meal times sipping rosé rather than cooking anything (and is quite evident by my blog posts). I may have had a few cashews on the side for good measure. When it was super hot, I branched out and picked up some fro-yo or made this simple granita. What's great about a granita is that you don't need a fancy ice cream maker or other gigantic contraption, and you can really make any flavor that you want (maybe I should have made a rosé granita). This espresso version gives you a little caffeine jolt alongside the icy cold sensation, so go ahead and have it for breakfast. It's iced coffee weather!

Espresso Granita

2 cups strong hot coffee or espresso
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, to taste
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Stir espresso, 1/2 cup sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl until the sugar dissolves.

2. Pour into a 9x9x2" metal baking pan and freeze for 1 hour. Stir, mashing any frozen parts with the back of a fork. Cover; freeze until firm, about 2 hours.

3. Using a fork, scrape granita to form icy flakes. The granita can be made 3 days ahead. Cover tightly with foil; keep frozen. Give it a quick scrape before serving.

Monday, June 30, 2014

It Ain't Easy Being Green

For the past week, I've been a guinea pig. (OK, not literally.) I volunteered, along with few others, to test out a diet book for an upcoming article at work. I thought it would be a good opportunity to hit the reset button and stop pretending that I can eat and drink like I am 21. Which I am not. I thankfully only have to commit for two weeks. By the way, I'm calling it a diet because it is. (And it says so on the front cover.) It's only meant to be followed for four weeks to achieve rapid weight loss and is not meant to be incorporated into one's lifestyle full time.

While I have dropped 4 pounds in the first week, I can't believe that the weight loss will last long. The caloric restriction is a bit much. For example, by 5:00 pm today I had only consumed 550 calories. (Yes, I was getting hangry!) According to my tabulations, on most days I have been limited to 1000 calories tops. There's no way I'll be able to sustain that on my own, particularly because I am currently required to include several meals that should consist of either a 200-calorie fruit smoothie, protein shake or low-sodium soup. I personally don't like to drink my calories, so have opted for the soup. I quickly realized that I better start making my own soups because on my last run to Pret A Manger for my liquid-ish lunch, I discovered that several of their small soups top out at 1100 mg of sodium! (Your entire daily intake should be between 1500 mg and 2300 mg.) No joke! Also not a joke? Saturday's 100-calorie snack suggestion of 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds OR 6 oysters. Ummm…when is the last time you or anyone you have ever met in your life has eaten poppy seeds? That weren't in a muffin? And who snacks on oysters without a glass of wine? (Oh yeah, I'm not drinking alcohol or coffee either.)

So...I bring you fresh pea soup. Or frozen pea soup. Whatever you can find. It's super quick and easy and meets my stupid diet requirements. Typically fresh pea soup is coupled with mint but I found a recipe from The NY Times that suggested tarragon which I thought was a nice alternative. It's delish. I think I'll save the mint for all of the mojitos that I'm going to make once this is all over!

Summer Pea Soup
Adapted from Bon Appétit

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided
6 cups shelled fresh peas (from about 6 pounds pods) or 1 (16-ounce) bag of frozen peas, thawed
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon kosher salt, 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt the butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened but not browned, 6-8 minutes. Add 2 cups broth and bring to a boil. Add the peas, reduce the heat, and simmer gently until tender, about 5 minutes for fresh peas, about 2 minutes for frozen.

2. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the tarragon and remaining 1-2 cups broth to pot, if desired. (Add any additional broth according to your desired consistency.) Purée the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve warm or chilled. Serves 4 - 6.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Curds and Whey (aka My New Band Name)

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey…ummmm…yeah. That's very descriptive but not especially appealing. However, in the midst of my first attempt at making homemade ricotta, I immediately thought of little Miss Muffet. The thing is, to make ricotta (which is totes easy!) you are intentionally making curds and whey by heating milk, adding lemon juice to curdle it, then straining. Whey is the liquid that remains after you strain the curdled milk. Sounds delicious, Miss Muffet! 

Actually, homemade ricotta is super delish. I've already eaten more than half of the batch that I made because it's at least 17 billion times better than almost any other ricotta you'll buy in a little plastic tub! I'm guessing that little Miss was just eating a cottage cheese type of snack, but she for sure would have preferred this ricotta. Trust.

Fresh Ricotta

3 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Pour the milk, cream and salt into a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan. Attach a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Heat the milk to 190°F, stirring it occasionally to keep from scorching on the bottom. (You could also eyeball the temperature by waiting until the mixture begins to simmer, but hasn't yet come to a full boil.) Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice. Stir once, gently and slowly, then let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes to allow the curds to form.

2. Meanwhile line a colander with two layers of cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. Pour the milk mixture (curds and whey) into the colander and let the curds strain for at least 30 minutes, discarding the whey as necessary. At this point you'll have a soft, spreadable ricotta. If you continue to strain for up two hours, it will still be spreadable but a bit firmer. It will continue to firm as it cools. 

3. Discard the whey (unless you want to save it for other purposes). Use the ricotta right away or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate (up to 4 days) until ready to use. Serve with pasta or with toasted baguette drizzled with honey or olive oil or both. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Let Them Eat Cake

It's a gorgeous Easter Sunday in NYC and I still have yet to find an abundance of spring veggies. Maybe I'm not shopping at the right places? Fine. Who needs vegetables anyway? Let's forget healthy living for a minute and just bake! 

I decided to make a dessert using only ingredients that I already had on hand, but didn't want it to be super boring looking. Hellooo, 1950s! I unearthed my bundt pan (that I've had for years but never used) to put to use for the first time.  If you don't have a bundt pan, you could swap in 2 regular (8-inch) cake pans or 1 (9x13) baking pan, but just check for doneness earlier in the baking process.

This is a very simple cake recipe, but I recommend using a stand mixer if you can. (There's no reason to exert yourself!) The cake is light in texture and sweetness so is perfect as a spring dessert. Or for breakfast. Or lunch. Or tea time. Or Mad Men viewing. You get the picture. Having a hard time hanging with the relatives? Forgot to file your taxes? Just eat cake! 

Lemon Bundt Cake
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10" tube pan, or a 9" to 10", 9- to 10-cup capacity bundt-style pan.

2. Beat together the butter, sugar, and salt, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

3. Add the baking powder, then add the flour alternating with the milk, starting and ending with the flour. Mix until smooth. Stir in the grated lemon zest.

4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake the cake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

5. While the cake is baking, make the glaze by stirring together the lemon juice and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

6. Remove the cake from the oven, and set it on a rack. After 5 minutes, run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen, and turn the cake out onto a rack.

7. Poke the hot cake all over with a cake tester or toothpick. Stir the glaze to combine, and immediately brush it on the hot cake. Let it sink in, then brush on more glaze, continuing until all the glaze is used up. Allow the cake to cool before slicing. Serves 16.