Posted on December 2, 2014
Recipe development can be a precarious business, filled with ups and downs, wasted ingredients and way too many dishes to count. Some of us overthink things. Some of us underthink things. And some recipes are just downright flops. (Note to self: There is a such thing as too much cinnamon.) Some people, though, seem to possess the innate ability to invent the most delicious ideas out of thin air. For those lucky few, despite the drudgery we might except such work to take, the approach is more felt than calculated. It’s simplistic and almost childlike, based in food memories and an understanding of basic likes and dislikes.
I like to think that Beany has a pretty good grasp of how a kitchen operates, at least by 3-year-old standards, but I do think she still looks at it as a sort of magical place where cookies and tacos and Thanksgiving dinner are born from things found in the refrigerator. It’s a simplistic understanding of the process, sure, but in a way, isn’t that exactly what it is? Looking at cooking and baking through Beany’s eyes reminds me exactly why kids can be such great kitchen companions. They know what they like, they know what they don’t like, and they’re unhindered by fears of failure. Think it; make it. Try, and see. That’s their approach, and surprisingly often, it’s a pretty good one.
So this is the story of Beany and her very first recipe, a dessert (no surprise there) that she aptly titled “goodnight cookies.” It started with a simple question:
“What should we bake today?”
“Cookies!” she said.
“What kind of cookies?”
“How about goodnight cookies, Mommy?”
“Goodnight cookies? What do those look like?”
“Moons. With sprinkles. And sweet, like my birthday cake.”
I can’t make every Lego “ice-cream house” or drawing of “all my princess friends” come to life, but this I could do. Based on Beany’s careful instructions and a whole lot of sprinkles, we made her “goodnight cookies.”
I wish you could have seen her face when we pulled them from the oven. Magic.
Beany’s Goodnight Cookies
Recipe by Beany
For the sugar cookie dough:
• 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• ¼ teaspoon baking soda
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
• ¾ cup sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 tablespoon clear imitation vanilla (This is to keep the lightest-colored dough possible and funfetti-ish taste, but pure vanilla works fine, too.)
• ½ cup sprinkles (artificial seems to work best), plus more for sprinkling on top of icing
For the vanilla glaze:
• 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
• 3-4 tablespoons warm water
• 1 teaspoon clear imitation vanilla
In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Using electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Add egg, and cream until fluffy (takes about two minutes). Add vanilla, and mix until combined. Turn mixer on low speed, gradually add dry ingredients, and mix until fully incorporated. Fold in the sprinkles.
Form dough into disk shape, wrap with plastic wrap or parchment paper, and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Roll out dough on floured surface until it’s about ¼-inch thick. Cut out your moon shapes (to prevent sticking, try flouring the cookie cutters before using), and place about an inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 12 to 15 minutes (or until edges turn golden brown). Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Once cookies are cool, you can add the glaze (simply mix the powdered sugar with the water and vanilla, and add more water or powdered sugar to reach desired consistency). Dip the cookies in the glaze, and place them back on the wire rack to dry. Before the glaze hardens, sprinkle a few sprinkles on top.
Posted on October 17, 2014
This time of year is so, so hectic (though we probably always feel like our lives are crazy busy, right?). When I think of an easy fall dinner, I often base its viability on a simple pre-trick-or-treating test. Basically, is it something that could be easily made and quickly served to a family (friends included!) before heading out for a wonderfully chilly evening of trick-or-treating and other Halloween fun? To pass this test, the dish must be: 1. Easy. 2. Reasonably quick and require little prep work. 3. Have some sort of protein/substance to it to combat the gallons of candy that will inevitably follow. Look no further, friends! This puff pastry with ham and Gruyère is the stuff that Halloween nights were made of.
Yes, puff pastry is something you could theoretically make yourself, but even Ina Garten says she buys it at the store, so until some super ambitious day in the future, I’m following suit. Trader Joe’s has a version out now for the holidays with zero soy (huzzah!), so we’re stocking up. Because, guys, the real truth of the matter is you never know when you’ll need to wrap something in pastry dough.
The recipe for this is hardly much of a recipe at all. Roll out some puff pastry, slather on some mustard, arrange some ham and cheese on top, and then top it off with the other piece of pastry dough. Add an eggs wash, and you’re done. Even without much effort, puff pastry has an amazing way of elevating something super basic to something that feels a little fancier. Truth be told, I think this dish especially fits my vision of a Halloween dinner because it feels like a more grown-up version of the crescent roll-wrapped mummy dogs that frequent Halloween spreads. You remember those, right? They’re a festive spin on pigs in a blanket, no doubt. But something about ham and Gruyère in a puff pastry seems a bit more elegant than a hot dog in pop-and-bake dough, even though they are most definitely related. Cousins, at least. (And not to knock the mummy dogs. Add a mustard face, and those things are delish.) I’d happily serve this to company, even on a non-Halloween night.
Puff Pastry with Ham and Gruyère
From Ina Garten
• 1 package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
• 2 tablespoons mustard (Dijon, horseradish, whatever you fancy)
• ¼ pound black forest ham, sliced
• ½ pound Gruyère cheese, sliced
• 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, and place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan.
Lay 1 sheet of puff pastry on a floured board or countertop, and carefully roll it out to about 10 by 12 inches. Place it on a sheet pan and brush it with the mustard, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Layer the ham on top of that, leaving the same border, followed by the cheese. Brush the border with the egg wash.
Roll the second sheet of puff pastry out on the floured board or countertop to the same 10 by 12 inches. Place the second sheet on top of the filled pastry, and line up the edges as best you can. Cut the edges straight with a small knife if you need to, and then press together lightly. You can use the tines of a fork to help seal the edges in place. Brush the top with egg wash, and cut a few slits in the top so steam can escape.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until pastry is puffed and golden brown. Allow it to cool for a few minutes. Serve hot or warm.
[Note: I actually halved this recipe, and it worked out really well. Instead of using two sheets of puff pastry, I just used one, rolled out to 10 by 12 inches and then cut in half (making one sheet the top layer and one sheet the bottom). Use half the amount of filling, and bake for about 20 minutes. Results should be the same!]
I think there are some pretty great spins you could probably take with this. Green apples and Brie maybe? Or leftover Thanksgiving turkey, Gruyère and cranberry sauce? What do you think?
Posted on September 29, 2014
Like any other self-respecting, seasonally driven Pinterester, I’ve spent the better part of the past month searching the interwebs for fall-filled recipes and holiday décor ideas. There were the pumpkin spice latte copycat recipes, the “12 ways to decorate with gourds” kind of posts and plenty of outfits involving riding boots and scarves. And I know I’m not the only one. That “Holidays and Events” board on Pinterest is hopping.
Among the smorgasbord of fall-appropriate pins were also a slew of ideas for what to do with the mountains of apples I knew we’d bring home from apple picking this year. This time around, we went for the big bag (about 20 pounds), so as much as we all like eating those guys just plain, it’s taken a little planning to make sure they all go to good use. Homemade applesauce uses a ton of apples, and this cake uses a ton of homemade applesauce. Oh, and it’s topped with caramel, so… yes.
For those of you who like a dense, rich pumpkin cake kind of recipe, this cake is an amazing alternative. Its texture is very much the same. And it’s appley, spice-filled and tastes like fall. It keeps really well, too, for at least three days in an airtight container (it might keep even longer, but our tummies didn’t wait to find out).
And because I had even more applesauce leftover from the big batch I made in the Crock-Pot last week, there’s a second applesauce spice cake cooling on the counter as we speak. Huzzah! It really is that good, guys.
Applesauce Spice Cake
Adapted slightly from Merrill Stubbs, Food52.com
For the cake:
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 2 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
• 1 rounded teaspoon ground ginger
• ¼ rounded teaspoon cloves
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup sugar
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 ½ cups unsweetened (preferably homemade) applesauce
• 2/3 cup canola oil
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the caramel glaze:
• 4 tablespoons salted butter, cut into chunks
• ½ cup packed light brown sugar
• 1/3 cup heavy cream
• 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• ¾ to 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F, and butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves, and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs with both sugars until light. Then add the applesauce, oil and vanilla, and mix until smooth.
Using a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients (careful not to overmix!). Pour the batter into the Bundt pan, and bake for about 45 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pan on a rack before turning it out and cooling completely on the rack. Wait until the cake is cool to make the caramel glaze.
The make the glaze, put a piece of foil or paper under the cooling rack to catch any drips before you start. Then, put the butter in a medium saucepan with the brown sugar, cream and salt over medium heat. Bring it to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute, and then pull it off the heat.
Leave the pan to cool for a couple of minutes, and then slowly whisk in the (sifted!) powdered sugar until you have a thick but pourable consistency (you might not need all the sugar). If the mixture seems too thick, add a splash of cream to thin it out a little. Immediately pour the glaze over the cake, moving slowly and evenly to cover as much of the cake as possible. Let the glaze set before serving the cake.
Posted on September 16, 2014
I think most people, buried in the to-do lists of their day-to-day lives, probably have some sort of pipe dream, an “I’ll do this someday when life slows down and the timing is right” sort of thing, that they keep coming back to when day jobs get too busy, overwhelming or stressful, and they just feel like throwing in the towel and running in a totally different direction. For Jared and I, that pipe dream involves moving to some sleepy coastal town and opening a great little coffee shop/bakery/bookstore/art gallery, where we spend our days covered in flour (me), drinking copious amounts of coffee (him) and chatting with customers about Hemingway, Dickens and the latest local artist whose work adorns our walls.
I’ll admit, on a lot of days, that dream sounds pretty awesome. Peaceful. Slower. Quiet. But of course, there are dreams, and there is real life. There are real jobs to do, real bills to pay, real needs to fill. Oh, and there are those pesky student loans, too. Student loans for educations that, though certainly fueled and arguably achieved through mountains of coffee and books, have very little to do with running a small business that caters to such things. So for now, we keep dreaming. And that’s probably a good thing.
So we can’t have the pipe dream now. But you know what? I have a fridge full of fruit that needs to be eaten and enough butter, flour and sugar to guarantee a happy day. So I bake. There’s something about making tarts, especially simple, rustic fruit tarts, that makes me feel a lot closer to that someday dream. I don’t know that I want to roll cookies out all day or wait for yeasty dough to rise, but tarts? Tarts I could spend every morning on. I love the simple dough, I love the flexibility in the filling, and I love that no matter how or what you squish inside that little mold, it comes out looking delicious, beautiful and intentional. I only made four for this recipe, and I would have happily made 50. In fact, maybe I should further specify that highly specific dream of ours: coffee shop/bakery/bookstore/art gallery/destination tart shop. Yep, that sounds perfect.
This recipe is pretty forgiving, so feel free to experiment with the fruit filling. Just add a tablespoon or so more flour if your fruit is especially juicy. And for the crust, you can easily sub out almond extract for the vanilla or switch up the oils (the original recipe recommends ¼ cup canola oil and ¼ cup olive oil). Just top the finished product with a good-sized dollop of whipped cream, and you’ll be in good shape.
Blueberry Nectarine Tarts
Adapted from Amanda Hesser, Food52.com
• 1 ½
cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• ¾ teaspoons kosher salt
• ¾ cups plus 1 teaspoon sugar
• ½ cup canola oil
• 2 tablespoons whole milk
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
• 4 small ripe nectarines
• a handful of fresh blueberries
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 ½ cups flour, ½ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar. In a small bowl, whisk together the canola oil, milk and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture, and mix gently with a fork, just enough to dampen (you don’t want to overwork the dough!).
Divide the dough among your small tart pans (I used four 4-inch pans and had a little more dough than I needed; six 3-inch pans would probably be perfect. You could also use one 11-inch tart pan). Use your hands to pat out the dough so it covers the bottom of the pans, pushing it up the sides until it reaches the top. It should be about 1/8-inch thick all around. Trim away the excess dough.
In another bowl, combine ¾ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, ¼ teaspoon salt and the butter. Use your fingers to pinch the butter into the dry ingredients until crumbly.
Starting on the outside, arrange the nectarines overlapping in a concentric circle over the crust, and fill in the extra space however you like to snuggly fit in as many slices as you can. Squeeze the blueberries in next to the nectarines, dividing them evenly among the tarts.
Sprinkle the crumbly butter mixture over top (it will seem like a lot), and bake the tarts for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust is starting to brown and the fruit is bubbly. (A larger tart will likely take a five to 10 minutes longer). Cool tarts on a rack. Serve them warm or room temperature with lots and lots of whipped cream.
Posted on July 3, 2014
We eat strawberries nearly every day of the year in our house because Beany and I can’t get enough of them, but summer strawberries are by far the best of the bunch. They are amazingly juicy, amazingly sweet and amazingly not $5 a quart right now. So strike while those fields are hot!
In honor of this grand strawberry season, here are five of my favorite strawberry-filled desserts, perfect for your Fourth of July cookout.
Happy Fourth of July, pals!
Posted on June 28, 2014
Days start at about 5 in the morning here, and from then until bedtime, it feels pretty nonstop. There’s breakfast to make, a toddler to entertain, a baby to change and a puppy to feed — all before 7 a.m. I know this isn’t unusual for parents with young kids. Or any kids for that matter. I spend the day racing the clock, juggling nap time and work time, proofing a magazine while bouncing a baby on my knee. It’s amazingly wonderful in so many ways, though I’d be lying if I said I don’t have those moments when I wonder how on earth I’ll make it to bedtime. A life spent with small children by its very nature is always a bit out of control, and no matter how organized and enthusiastic I try to be, things usually hit the fan somewhere between 5 and 7 p.m. It’s an inevitable scramble, and it can certainly wear you down. But then there’s always that time at the end of the day, when I’m snuggling Beany on the couch or rocking Bear in my arms, when I think to myself, “I could live in the moment forever.”
Long days, short years. That’s what they say, isn’t it? I’m learning more and more, with every new morning I wake up as a mom, how important it is to grasp the simple moments when I can. Kids are only little for so long. You know this. I know this. But you know what? They don’t know this. At least not in the same way we do. So it’s our job to help them make the most of this time and make the most of being little, when the world is big and everything is new and picking a strawberry straight from the ground makes them prouder than their tiny bodies can even express. So this summer, despite any busyness from home, work or life in a big city, we’re going to try our best at keeping things simple. Because it turns out that the simple memories, the simple adventures and the simple recipes are the ones we keep coming back to.
Angel Food Cake
Adapted just slightly from The Essential New York Times Cookbook (Hesser, p. 742)
• 1 cup cake flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 1/4 cups sugar
• 10 large egg whites
• pinch of salt
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar.
In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and salt until the mixture is foamy. Add the remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar a few tablespoons at a time, and continue beating until the mixture holds soft peaks. Fold in half the dry ingredients until the mixture is smooth. Then fold in the remaining dry ingredients. Fold in the vanilla.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the top is golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven, and invert it immediately, either on the feet of the pan (if the pan has feet) or resting on an empty bottle. Let the cake cool completely.
Once the cake is cool, run a long thin knife around the sides to loosen the edges, and invert the cake onto a plate. Serve with fresh whipped cream and strawberries.
Posted on May 29, 2014
When we lived in Missouri, Jared and I had a beast of a grill that took up about a third of the deck space at the back of our small apartment. It sat largely unused for a good five months of the year, but once the weather warmed up enough for Jared to remove his snow gear, we put the grill to use at least three or four times a week (though I do recall a few winter grilling sessions that required the use of gloves). When we moved to North Carolina though, our new place had one of those “no grilling within 10 feet of the premises” rules, so there was no sense in moving a behemoth hunk of stainless steel 920 miles across the country just to let it sit. We left it behind, the poor thing. I guess every grill has its day.
Summer is certainly the season for grilling, but we’re now living in our second no-grills-allowed apartment and have had to get a little creative to satisfy summer cravings without becoming wild tong-wielding rule-breakers. We finally bought a cast-iron skillet last weekend to try our hands at cooking steak inside, and I’d say it gave our memories of grilled steaks a run for their money (minus the three fire alarms and frantic fanning of lingering smoke, of course). For this barbecue chicken salad though, we fired up the ol’ panini press as a grilling substitute. And you know what? Not only does it taste pretty great, but it’s also amazingly fast. It’s not quite like the real deal, but it gets the job done with the bonus of adding those dandy grill marks.
The rest of this salad comes together super easily, and it’s one of those great recipes that’s really more of a loose guideline than a hard blueprint. Add what you love, skip what you don’t love, throw it all in a bowl, and you’re done. Aside from grilling (see also: panini-ing) the chicken, it’s low maintenance and cooking free. Now go forth, and chop!
Chopped Barbecue Chicken Salad
• 6 to 8 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
• 12 ounces to 1 pound grilled chicken, cut into small bite-sized pieces
• 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
• 1 ½ cups corn (cooked, straight from the cob or however you like it)
• 1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced
• ¼ to ½ cup diced red onion
• grated cheese for sprinkling (cheddar always goes well with barbecue)
• ranch dressing (here’s a homemade version we like)
• barbecue sauce
* Other fun additions: hard-boiled eggs, avocados, crumbled bacon, olives, tortilla strips
Put all of the ingredients except the cheese, dressing and barbecue sauce into a large bowl, and give the salad a good toss. Top individual salads with a bit of grated cheese and an even drizzle of ranch and barbecue sauce. Enjoy!
I’m a big fan of making things that we can get two meals out of, and this salad keeps really well for a few days in the refrigerator as long as you leave the dressing and barbecue sauce off until the day you eat it. And when it says it serves four, that’s a healthy dose of salad, like for a whole meal, so it could definitely be stretched further if you serve it alongside some good bread or something else to help fill the tummies. It’s a new favorite for us and definitely in the weekly rotation for these warm-weather days.
What’s your favorite throw-it-together meal? Any other creative non-grill-owning grillers out there? What’s on the menu now that the weather is getting warm?