September 30, 2010

have some chicken wings

Our recipe for Vietnamese-style chicken wings was selected as an Editor's Pick over at Food52, so I thought I'd share it here too. (I was pleasantly surprised, by the way, since this was our first ever recipe submission!) We don't often deep fry because it's a pain, but if we're going to eat wings, we eat wings. That means going all out. That means deep frying.  These get a bath in soy sauce and a light coating of rice flour before being fried, then a Viet-inspired glaze with ginger, garlic, sugar, sambal oelek (chile sauce) and fish sauce. The same frying technique works well for a classic Buffalo wing as well (just toss in Frank's Hot Sauce and melted butter).

If you're not familiar with Food52, it is a community for home cooks to submit their recipes and get inspired by others. Each week, the site holds a contest (e.g. Your Best Chicken Wings) and the winning recipes are published in the annual Food 52 cookbook -- crowdsourcing at it finest! I like to browse Food 52 when planning meals or feeling uninspired.

Chicken wings

P.S. As a result of this contest, I found out last week that our curbside recycling service takes everything, including used cooking oil. Go California.

September 24, 2010

Happy Friday

So this has been my first week working from home and the verdict is that it's a mixed bag. There are some nice things, like working in front of a window and wearing slippers, but it was a little too quiet sometimes.  (And yet it was still so easy to get distracted. Are birds attacking our sprouts in the garden? I'd better go check. Auggggh, there's a man in the backyard! Oh, it's the gardener. Passing the kitchen... hmm, am I hungry?)

Anyway, I realized today that I never posted pictures from our trip to Chicago last month. I am remiss, because it was a seriously great trip. First, Mark and I caught up with my college roommate in Chicago. Lisa told me earlier this summer that she and her husband are having a baby, but I hadn't seen her since she found out it's a boy. We had a fun, wonderful lunch and I am so excited for Lisa and her husband.

Later that weekend, we saw two good friends, Susie and Demian, get married. Everything about this wedding was beautiful, but my favorite part was when the bride and groom sang a duet of Time's A-Wastin' while we (the guests) accompanied with noise makers. We laughed and danced and drank wine and ate macarons and took silly pictures and stayed up late. So grateful to have these friends in my life!

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 After the wedding, we drove through cornfield after cornfield and arrived in northern Illinois, where we visited with Mark's grandpa and family, spied on animals (hummingbirds, woodpeckers, a woodchuck), trespassed into a corn field, ate frozen custard and sweet corn and the most delicious tomatoes from the garden. And Mark drove a John Deere. Mark's grandpa is such a character and we had a nice visit. On the way back to the airport, we stopped for lunch at The Old Fashioned, an excellent restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin. We drank a local ale that I'm still thinking about and ate cheese curds (dipped in cheese sauce). Awesome.

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Hope everyone has a super weekend!

September 20, 2010

out and about on the last weekend of summer



Backyard
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This weekend was gray and cool and overcast. We did some work in the garden, found a new hiking spot, transformed our old, splintery dresser into a glossy nightstand, and made some good food. I think I'm ready for fall. Drinking tea on cool mornings, watching the wind blow through the leaves and wearing my favorite slouchy cardigan with the shawl collar. I'm looking forward to eating Honeycrisp apples, roasting vegetables, making soup, baking fruit pies and tarts with warm spices and simmering Marcella Hazan's bolognese sauce on the stove all day. And I'm excited about our trip to New York in a few weeks.

September 18, 2010

cookies that turned out to be candy

Our oven door shattered last week. Fortunately, no one was hurt (um, have I mentioned that Mark sometimes wears safety goggles when he bakes?) but the wait for a replacement door has kind of cramped our style. The pain de campagne Mark was working on had to be tossed. The pizza dough we made had to be frozen. Also, the market currently has a glut of Gravenstein apples which are, as my apple expert father-in-law tells me, the best apple pie apples and, I mean, it's mid-September and we haven't made an apple pie yet. Thanks a lot, oven door.

(First world problems, huh?)

So, I thought this would be a good time to post a recipe for a simple sweet that my family grew up eating: no bake cookies. They don't require an oven, they take less than 20 minutes and they are probably THE biggest reason why I love chocolate and peanut butter together. Think chubby mounds of chocolate-y oats shot throughout with the rich flavor of peanut butter. They have plenty of oat texture and just enough richness to go with a glass of cold milk.

My dad used to love these cookies and constantly begged my grandmother, my aunt Kathy, my sister and me to make him some. "No one loves me, or else they would make me some no bake cookies," he would sigh. (My dad is a character.) The problem was that, for my sister and me, these cookies were impossible to get right. Sometimes they refused to set. Sometimes they set so quickly that we could barely get the batter out of the mixing bowl. We could never figure it out. Was it that we substituted butter for the oleo (margarine) Grandma used? Was it that persnickety step calling for boiling the milk, butter, and sugar for exactly 1 minute? Did you have to live in Michigan and have a magic touch? It seemed that way. A good sport, Dad ate our failed attempts anyway.

A few years ago, Dad went through chemo and radiation therapy and lost his taste for sweets. Since the cookies didn't cheer him up anymore, we started experimenting with smoothies, braises and flavorful sauces. I somehow forgot all about no bake cookies, especially as Mark and I started to learn how to make more complicated things, like pie crust and brioche and marshmallows and wedding cake ... until a dinner at Hungry Mother (in Cambridge, Massachusetts) with my good friend Jyoti last year. When I bit into one of the cookies from the tray we received with the check, my determination to get these right was renewed.

The first time I made them in our Houston kitchen, I had an epiphany (I know this sounds silly but bear with me) -- this was not a "cookie" recipe at all. When the recipe said to bring sugar, milk and butter to a rolling boil on the stove, I realized that the goal of this step was obviously to change the properties of the sugar. This meant I should be able to apply the rules of candy making, which have you bring a sugar mixture to a certain temperature range for different kinds of candy, like fudge or caramel or hard candies. I yelped in excitement (Mark can attest to this), pulled out the candy thermometer, brought the mixture to the soft ball stage and formed the cookies -- technically, candies -- as usual. Perfection. More importantly: consistently achievable perfection.

No bake cookies aren't fancy. But these humble sweets were the first symbol, to me, that food you make -- even the simplest thing -- can make people happy. They don't appeal to Dad these days but I'm still a fan. And so is Mark, who would eat the entire batch if I would let him.

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No Bake Cookies
yields 15 cookies

This recipe doubles well, but I prefer to make a small batch (as written below) because the cookies are truly best immediately after you make them. After you make them, the texture is soft and almost melty. After a few hours, though, the cookies begin to dry out -- perfect for dipping into a glass of milk, if that's your thing. I'm tempted to say milk is almost mandatory, actually. 

I played around with my grandmother's recipe and made a few changes. First, I use butter instead of margarine, which alters the texture but adds more flavor. Rather than stirring in the cocoa powder at the end, I add it to the milk mixture because cocoa powder has more flavor when dissolved in liquid. I dial down the sugar. I use natural (i.e. 100% peanuts), crunchy peanut butter and add a dash of sea salt to compensate since my peanut butter has less sodium than regular. Finally, while my grandmother liked quick cooking oats, I like old fashioned oats. Quick cooking oats can be substituted and will yield a smoother, less oaty, texture.

The last thing: these can be made without a candy thermometer. In step 3, as written below, you need to bring the sugar mixture to the soft ball stage: you can tell if it is ready by dropping a bit of the sugar mixture into cold water and looking for a soft ball to form. This is easier said than done. If your sugar mixture doesn't boil long enough, you'll get cookies that refuse to harden. If you boil it too long, your cookies will harden too quickly. Learn from my mistakes; just use the candy thermometer.

Ingredients:

3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup milk (1% or 2% both work)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon sea salt (may omit if you use regular, salted peanut butter)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup natural peanut butter (creamy or crunch both work; may substitute regular peanut butter)
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats (may substitute quick cooking oats, see notes above)

Directions:

1. Add the oats and the peanut butter to a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

2. Set out an area for the cookies to cool: a sheet or two of waxed paper or a silicone baking mat big enough to hold 15 2-inch cookies.

3. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, milk, butter, cocoa powder and salt over medium heat. Stir to combine with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula. Place a candy thermometer in the saucepan and, stirring frequently, bring the mixture to 235 degrees Fahrenheit. The mixture will boil vigorously and become foamy and glossy. Watch the thermometer closely and, once the mixture reaches 235-240 degrees, take it off the stove immediately. On my stove, this process usually takes between 4 and 6 minutes but will vary depending on your stove. (I know it feels like it is taking forever but it's better not to step away from the stove during this step. Wait it out.)

3. Pour the sugar mixture into the mixing bowl containing the oats and peanut butter. Stir well to thoroughly combine the ingredients, working fairly quickly, so the mixture does not begin to set in the bowl.

4. Drop cookies by the tablespoonful onto the wax paper or silicone baking mat you set out earlier. Let cool until firm, approximately 5-10 minutes. The outer surface of the cookies will go from glossy/shiny to matte looking. I don't mind eating them when they are still a little shiny but they will hold together better if they are matte. Store covered. These cookies keep for a day or two but are best eaten immediately.

September 15, 2010

scenes from the weekend

A sweet care package from Washington: two jars of home canned sour cherries, two jars of blueberries, 3 jars of homemade jam, and 1 bottle of special apple cider vinegar.

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Trip to Half Moon Bay on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, just after the fog started to roll in:

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Dinner in the backyard: 
 
backyard light
 
Summer salad

September 12, 2010

one waffle to rule them all

Team pancake or team waffle? I enjoy conducting unscientific surveys on whether people prefer waffles or pancakes. Pancakes invariably come out on top for most people, which boggles this waffle lover's ever loving mind. Mark Bittman (or was it Alton Brown?) once uniformly dismissed waffle irons as unnecessary uni-taskers. Uni-tasker? Okay. Unnecessary? Please. Team waffle for life.

Breakfast



This means that we are pretty picky about waffles. Buttery flavor, naturally. Lightly browned exterior. Slightly sweet, with a kiss of salt. But the key to a fantastic waffle is this: a crisp, shattery exterior crust that gives way to a light and tender interior. That's it.

The catch? (Of course there is a catch.) To make a truly fantastic waffle, you have to commit. It takes a little time, more than a few dirty bowls, and a whole lot of egg white whipping. This isn't a box of Bisquick, after all. But the rewards -- if you are a waffle lover like me -- are great. One waffle to rule them all, indeed. If you want them, come and claim them! (We got sucked into a LOTR marathon this weekend, sorry.)



And if you are team pancake, please feel free to leave me your favorite pancake recipe in the comments.

Favorite waffles
Adapted from Fine Cooking
Makes 4-5 waffles

Notes: Mark and I make a few changes. The original recipe calls for buttermilk, which we don't always keep on hand; instead, we use 1% milk (or whole milk, if we happen to have it, which makes a richer waffle) and lemon juice or white vinegar. 1 cup of milk plus 1 tablespoon of lemon juice is the usual proportion. Once the mixture clabbers, you have a decent buttermilk substitution.

Also, the original recipe calls for vegetable oil but we substitute an equal amount of melted butter. The first time I made this substitution, I found that if you let the warm butter and cold milk mixture sit around while you whip the egg whites, the mixture seizes. If you switch the order of the steps in the original recipe, though, it works fine. That is what I do below.

3-1/2 oz. (3/4 cup) bleached all-purpose flour
1 oz. (1/4 cup) cornstarch
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup buttermilk OR 3/4 cup milk + 2.25 tsp lemon juice/white vinegar
6 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 large egg, separated
1 Tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Heat the oven to 200F and heat the waffle iron. If using vegetable oil, skip to step 2. If using butter, place 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a microwave proof bowl. Melt and set aside to cool.

2. If using store-bought buttermilk, skip to step 3. To make a buttermilk substitute, combine 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar in a Pyrex measuring cup. Stir well and set aside.

3. Mix the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking power and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl.

4. Separate the egg. Add the egg yolk to a second medium mixing bowl. Add the egg white to a metal mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer). Beat the egg white almost to soft peaks. [How to know if you have soft peaks? The egg whites will transform from clear to foamy to opaque. When the egg whites have just become opaque, start testing by dipping your whisk into the egg white and turning it upside down. Examine the peaks that form: are they soft and do they melt back into the egg white batter after a second? Those are probably soft peaks.] Once you get soft peaks, sprinkle in 1 tablespoon sugar and continue to beat until the peaks are stiff. [How to know if you have stiff peaks? Test by dipping in your whisk, turning it upside down, and verifying that those peaks are firm, fully opaque and glossy. Most importantly, they should hold straight up without collapsing. Check out this visual guide for help.] Set aside.

4. Go back to that bowl you set aside, the one that contains an egg yolk. Add the buttermilk and 1/4 cup milk. If using vegetable oil, add 6 tablespoons vegetable oil. If using butter, add 6 tablespoons of the cooled, melted butter you set aside earlier. Stir to combine and immediately pour the contents of this bowl into the dry ingredients. Whisk until just mixed. Drop the whipped egg white onto the batter in dollops and fold in with a spatula until just incorporated.

5. Pour the batter onto the hot waffle iron (mine takes about 3/4 cup) and cook until the waffle is crisp and nutty brown; follow the manufacturer's instructions for timing at first and then adjust to your liking (ours takes 6 minutes). Set the waffle directly on the oven rack to keep it warm and crisp. Repeat with the remaining batter, holding the waffles in the oven (don't stack them). When all the waffles are cooked, serve immediately.

September 7, 2010

Hello, California

Death Valley
empty highway through Death Valley
Technically the first place we stopped in California was Death Valley. Death Valley is a weird place, and it doesn't feel like California so much as it feels like a forbidding (but pretty), somewhat scary, empty, 110 degree inferno where I spent the whole time praying that our car wouldn't break down. I made Mark stop the car so I could take pictures of the sand dunes. How cool, I thought, until I stepped onto the sand, the hot sand, and realized it was literally burning my feet through my flimsy sandals.

Then we drove some more, through Mammoth Lakes and gorgeous Yosemite.
Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park


And then a few more hours of twisty mountain roads, roads snaking past yellow hills, fruit farms and fields, and finally major highways. And then we got to our little house. Finally. We chose our place based on a few photos, and I felt increasingly nervous as we followed the GPS directions to our new address. As soon as we walked in, though: relief! It is lovely, with lots of light and a surprisingly big kitchen with a bay window overlooking the yard. The yard is private, surrounded by graceful ivy and tall flowering azaleas (which, frankly, still seems ridiculous to me. I mean, we're used to a view of a parking lot.)

Never mind that the closets are cramped, I can't figure out where I am going to store our extra sheets and we are still sleeping in a mattress on the floor -- we have a basil plant and a lemon tree and a big garden plot! We have a cheerful striped umbrella over our patio table. And we've made waffles in my favorite yellow Pyrex bowl. It felt weird, initially, but I mean, we actually live here now. In California. I leave the windows open. It is cold in the morning. It feels good, all of it.