Caramel Peanuts with Garam Masala

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As someone with a chronic, intense sweet tooth– someone who always hopes for the corner piece of a sheet cake (more frosting!), who thrives on sugary breakfast cereal, who eats the bottom of the cupcake first so that all subsequent bites are mostly buttercream– I’m incredibly confused to find that lately, all I want is spicy food.  I have been craving hot wings for weeks… I’ve been adding Sriracha to already-spicy Thai food… I’ve been dousing pizza with cracked pepper… you get the idea.

So last week, when I invited friends over for a lazy evening filled with drinks and Korean takeout, I didn’t even consider making dessert.  I didn’t even bother to stash a pint of ice cream in the freezer, just in case.  But neither did I slather the takeout with extra hot sauce.  I struck somewhere in the middle with sweet and spicy bar nuts, coated with caramelized sugar and a mix of cayenne pepper and garam masala.

Garam masala is one of my new favorite things; it’s a blend of cumin, cinnamon, pepper, cardamom, and other spices (recipes vary, and I’m not totally sure what all is in the blend in my pantry), and it walks the line between savory and sweet.  My favorite quick lunch is thin-sliced chicken breast marinated in buttermilk and coated in garam masala, then pan-fried.  It’s delicious stirred into ketchup as a dipping sauce for french fries.  And, because the cinnamon and cardamom lend themselves so well to sweet recipes, I’m contemplating a garam masala cookie recipe… but that is a story for another day.

The inspiration for these super-addictive, eat-’em-by-the-fistful peanuts was Smitten Kitchen’s brittled peanuts recipe.  For seasoning, SK’s recipe calls for a mixture of sugar and cayenne pepper, and while I’m sure that’s perfectly adequate, I just figured that an extra dose of spice couldn’t hurt anyone.  That, I assume, was my newly discovered pepper belly talking.  And my pepper belly was right!

To make these, the most delicious bar nuts you’ve ever had, all you do is cook a mixture of sugar, water, and a bit of butter on the stovetop until it turns golden brown (congratulations, you’ve just made caramel!), then stir in the peanuts and spices, and keep on stirring until you have a pot of sticky, clumpy, nutty spicy goodness.  The only catch is that, as the sugar continues to cook while you stir it with the peanuts, the mixture gets more and more stiff, and more difficult to stir.  There also comes a point, about midway through, when the caramel crystallizes; fortunately, Smitten Kitchen had warned me about this in advance and admonished me to just keep stirring.  It works– the grainy sugar slowly but surely turns back into syrupy caramel.  And your arm muscles get an excellent workout in the process.

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Once the nuts are thoroughly caramelized, turn them out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and let them cool.  When you can handle them, break up any large clumps and transfer them into a bowl or two, then bring some friends over and watch them disappear.

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While this didn’t necessarily satisfy my crazy craving for spicy food– I could still go for a big plate of buffalo wings right about now– it certainly filled an empty spot in my stomach, and earned a spot in my regular snack rotation, for sure.

And I’ll be back in a couple weeks with those crazy garam masala cookies.

Caramel Peanuts with Garam Masala
adapted from the Smitten Kitchen

1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
2 cups unsalted peanuts (raw or roasted), skins removed

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or spray it lightly with cooking spray.  In a small prep bowl, combine baking soda, salt, and spices; set aside.

In a heavy medium-sized saucepan, heat the sugar, butter, and water over medium-high heat; cook until it just starts to turn golden brown, 7-10 minutes.  Add the peanuts and stir to coat; continue stirring for about five minutes, until sugar crystallizes and then melts back into caramel.  Remove the pot from heat, and quickly stir in the spice mixture.

Pour the peanuts onto the prepared baking sheet and spread into a single layer.  Allow to cool completely before serving.

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Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookie Sandwiches

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Last week I made a red velvet cake.  No, that’s not what I’m showing you today, and it’s a good thing, too– both of the cakes fell apart as I took them out of their pans, and I had to patch all the pieces back together with frosting.  That doesn’t make for very good pictures, even if the cake tastes amazing (which it did).  But I tell you about the cake–or, more specifically, the frosting– because it was the jumping-off point for today’s cookies.

When I make a cake, I like to make plenty of frosting so that I’ll have enough to completely cover all the layers, but of course, that means you sometimes end up with more frosting than you can fit on the cake.  While there’s nothing stopping me from just eating this leftover frosting with a spoon over the course of a few days (and, in fact, that’s normally what I do), I just felt like there was probably a more practical solution this time around.  Enter the cookie sandwich.

As far as cookie sandwiches go, chocolate and cream is a pretty obvious (and excellent!) choice, but I am also extremely fond of frosting with oatmeal cookies.  I guess that’s the Southerner in me, hankering after Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies.  So the only thing to do was to make a mashup of both.  I ran across these chocolate and oatmeal cookies in the Mast Brothers cookbook, which I highly recommend.  The Masts look like characters in a Coen Brothers film, and their chocolate bars in their pretty wrappers look like props in an Anthropologie display.  Not to mention, their chocolate is really, really tasty.  I was pretty sure their recipes would be equally impressive.

Because the chocolate flavor in these cookies comes almost entirely from unsweetened cocoa powder, the cookies are a touch bitter.  They also contain studs of semi-sweet chocolate, but I liked the dark chocolate flavor of the dough so much that I used less than half the amount of chunks the recipe called for.

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These cookies are seriously delicious.  The chocolate flavor is intense without being too dark; you get pockets of molten chocolate here and there, thanks to the chunks; and the oats add an irresistible chewiness.  They’re so good they don’t even need the frosting.

Whenever I say that kind of thing, it usually means I’m running a fever… but in this case I’m perfectly well.  And, of course, the fact that the cookies didn’t need frosting didn’t stop me from slathering a few, anyway.

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It was an excellent decision.

Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookie Sandwiches
adapted from Mast Brothers Chocolate

for the cookies:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats

for the frosting:
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 box of confectioner’s sugar (about 2 cups)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream butter and brown sugar; add egg and beat until combined.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and salt.  Add the flour mixture gradually to the butter mixture and beat until well combined.  Add chocolate and oats and stir gently to combine.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake for about 12 minutes.  Allow to cool completely.

While the cookies cool, make the frosting.  Cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar and beat until the frosting is fluffy.  Add vanilla extract.

To make cookie sandwiches, spread about a tablespoon of frosting on the bottom, flat side of one cookie, then press the flat side of second cookie into the frosting.

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Sticky Rice Pudding

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This recipe really made me ponder the meaning of the word “easy.”  While rice pudding is not technically a difficult dish to pull off, can I really say it was easy if it took me two days to make it?  If it required me to track down two obscure ingredients that I would not have found if I didn’t have easy access to an Asian grocery?  If it made a royal mess in my kitchen?   And if it was such a pain, should I bother to post about it here?

Well, of course I should bother, and I’ll tell you why: this pudding is delicious.  I’m always fond of rice in sweet applications, and this one is exceptional.  The two types of rice involved (i.e. the two obscure ingredients), black and white glutinous rice, are naturally sweet, so only a small amount of sugar is needed.  And, because the rice is cooked al dente, the pudding has an enticing, hearty texture.  It’s also infused with coconut flavor and the warmth of brown sugar, and it’s filling enough to require only a small serving.  Oh, and also it’s really pretty.  Just look at the raw ingredients:

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I was able to find black and white glutinous rice at Super 88, an Asian market/food court a few blocks away from our apartment in Allston.  If you have an Asian grocery in your neighborhood, that’s probably your best bet for sourcing; while you can find it on Amazon, it’ll cost you roughly $15 a bag… and for that amount, heck, just let me know and I’ll mail you some.   (You could probably also just use whatever rice you have on hand.  The result will likely be different, but it’s rice pudding–it’s pretty much guaranteed to be delicious.)

As I said earlier, there is some mess, and a lot of time, involved in the preparation of the rice.  First, the rice has to soak for at least six hours, and preferably overnight.  I missed that little detail when I was first reading over the recipe; sad times.  Second, while I’m sure you could use a rice cooker, or simply boil the rice until it is done to your liking, the recipe specifies that it should be steamed and insists that the texture of the pudding will suffer otherwise.  How true this is, I couldn’t say, but I can tell you that steaming rice is a tricky affair.  The easiest way, since it requires no special equipment, is to line a colander with a clean kitchen towel (a thin towel, like a flour sack, works best), fill it with the rice, and set it over a pot of boiling water.  Cover it loosely with a lid and leave it alone for about 20 minutes.  While it steams, it will form a sticky mass; you’ll flip the mass over after 20 minutes and let it steam for 20 minutes more.

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And this is where the mess comes in… once you’ve removed the rice from the colander, lots of sticky little grains will cling tightly to the towel.  Unless you want it clinging there permanently, soak the towel immediately in warm water.

Once the rice is removed from the towel, you’re in the clear; just stir it together with warmed coconut milk and brown sugar.  There will be just enough of the milk mixture to coat the rice, leaving it beautifully glossy and smooth.

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Now that I’ve put it in writing, this doesn’t seem so hard after all.  A few days removed from the experience, I can say that this pudding is absolutely worth your time and effort.  And you had nothing to do today anyway, right?  I’d suggest whipping up some rice pudding.

Sticky Rice Pudding
from Heart of the Artichoke

1 1/2 cups white glutinous rice
1 1/2 cups black glutinous rice
2 cups coconut milk (canned works perfectly well)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Place rice in a bowl and cover with cold water; allow to soak from 6 hours to overnight.  Drain.

Set a pot of water to boil, and line a colander with a clean, thin dish towel.  Place drained rice in lined colander, and set the colander over the boiling water (make sure there is space between the water and the bottom of the colander).  Loosely cover with a lid and steam for 20 minutes.  Remove the lid, and carefully flip the rice, which will have solidified into a single mass; alternatively, stir very thoroughly with a wooden spoon.  Replace the lid and steam for 20 minutes more.  When the rice is cooked, spread it out onto a platter and let cool for about 15 minutes.

Heat the coconut milk, brown sugar, and salt in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt.  Transfer the rice to a serving bowl, add the coconut mixture, and stir gently to combine.  Serve immediately, or let it sit at room temperature for a few hours; the pudding is delicious at any temperature.

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Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs

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Is there anything more comforting on a cold night than a big bowl of pasta and a glass of red wine?  The benefits are endless: it’s cheap (well, unless you splurge on the wine), it’s the easiest thing in the world to make, and since one box of spaghetti is enough to feed an army, you end up with leftovers for days.  But the problem is, when you have nothing but cold nights for half the year, the same old spaghetti gets a little boring.

Spaghetti and meatballs probably sounds like the very definition of “same old,” but it’s pretty new for me. Typically, when I make spaghetti, I top it with sauteed peppers and onions and crumbled bacon.  Delicious, but… after a certain point, I just can’t do it anymore. That’s the cruelty of a Boston winter: it actually makes me not want to eat bacon.

Fortunately, these meatballs are super-delicious, and almost as easy as frying bacon.  The recipe is based on a Southern Living recipe for turkey burgers, and the first time I made them, it was because I had attempted the burgers the night before and totally undercooked them; I took the partially cooked patties, broke them into pieces, and rolled the pieces into balls.  They were so delicious with spaghetti that I’ve abandoned the burger idea completely.

The meatballs are flavored with finely minced onion and green bell pepper.  I’m usually pretty lazy about mincing, but in this case, the finer you chop the veggies, the better– unless you want to find chunks of onion in the meatballs (which I guess is fine, if you do).

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You’ll also add some chopped herbs.  I used cilantro, because Alex and I are obsessed, but parsley would also be good.

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Toss in a few more ingredients (egg, breadcrumbs, the usual suspects), and you’re ready to form the mixture into balls.  This is a little tricky, because ground turkey is really soft, and the mixture doesn’t want to be rolled– it mostly wants to stick to your hands.  However, it is super easy to portion out meatballs with a cookie dough scoop!  (Just be sure to wash the scoop aggressively when you’re done… obviously.)

While you heat your pan (preferably nonstick), put your spaghetti sauce over medium-low heat to warm.  Put the sauce in a larger pan than you normally would, since you’ll be stirring the meatballs into the sauce shortly.

Sidenote: I never make my own spaghetti sauce.  I should probably learn how to do that…but in the meantime, we’re really fond of Newman’s Own Sockarooni.

Gently drop the meatballs directly from the cookie dough scoop into the preheated pan; cook them for a minute or two on each side, just enough to get them nicely browned.  The browning will add extra flavor, of course, but it’ll also help the meatballs hold their shape.

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Once the meatballs are nicely browned, carefully add them to the sauce and gently stir so that they are fully coated in sauce.  They’ll keep slowly cooking in the sauce while you cook your pasta, and they’ll soak up all sorts of flavor from the sauce and stay nice and juicy.

So homey… so hearty.  It makes me feel like I can weather another few weeks of winter.

But if spring wanted to come tomorrow… that’d be fine.

Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs
adapted from Southern Living

1 lb ground turkey
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (preferably fresh)
1 large egg, beaten
1 Tbsp finely minced onion
3 Tbsp finely minced green bell pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1 box spaghetti

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands or a fork.  Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat with about a Tablespoon of olive oil.  Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat a jar of spaghetti sauce over medium-low heat.

When the skillet is hot, use a cookie dough scoop to gently drop balls of the meat mixture into the pan.  Cook for 1-2 minutes on each side until the meatballs are nicely browned.  Transfer to the saucepan and gently stir into the spaghetti sauce.

While the meatballs cook in the sauce, prepare the spaghetti according to package directions.  When the spaghetti is done, test a meatball for doneness.  Serve generous bowls of pasta with sauce, meatballs, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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Oatmeal Pancakes with Caramelized Bananas and Pecans

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There is a diner down the street from my workplace that, I have heard, makes the world’s best breakfast and brunch.  I’m inclined to believe it, since that diner is always busy, even on random weekday mornings when I pass by on the way to work.  It’s hard not to be jealous of the people who have sufficient free time to go out for pancakes and coffee on a Tuesday… but then again, I can’t be too jealous, since I am also capable of making knockout pancakes at home anytime I want.  And at least when I do brunch at home, there’s no chance I’ll have to wait for a table.  (I still haven’t learned how to make a really good Bloody Mary, though… so eating-out brunch still has that in its favor.)

These pancakes are a good bit heartier than your typical diner flapjacks; they’re made with a mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat flour, and they have a good handful of oats stirred in for good measure.  This gives the pancakes a more dense, biscuit-like texture and an oaty granola flavor that is a perfect match for maple syrup.  Or, even better, for caramelized bananas!

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(It seems like everything is coming up bananas and breakfast around here lately.)

Caramelized bananas are the easiest thing in the world to make.  Simply melt butter in a skillet, then toss in a small amount of maple syrup and sliced ripe banana (you’ll want to pick bananas that are nicely ripened with spotty peels, but not mushy-soft, since they will soften even more while they cook). After the banana slices are nicely browned on one side (after about two minutes), flip them and brown the other side.  While the bananas are cooking, the butter begins to brown, and the maple syrup mixes in with the caramelized butter to make the most heavenly sauce.  You won’t even need an extra drizzle of syrup on the pancakes; the bananas and the sauce will be perfect.

Throwing some nuts in the butter to crisp up alongside the bananas is also an excellent choice.  I intended to use pecans, but I forgot to buy them… and my sad little canister of mixed nuts contained only one lonely pecan.  So I compensated with a handful of whatever was left (mostly peanuts).  Delicious, but I think pecans or walnuts would be ideal.

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I feel like I should fess up here and admit that, again, this is a dish I made while Alex was away.  Maybe there will be an encore presentation soon… if he’ll provide the Bloody Marys.

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Oatmeal Pancakes with Caramelized Bananas and Pecans
adapted from The Practical Encyclopedia of Whole Foods

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
4 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
3 bananas, halved and quartered lengthwise
1/4 cup pecans or walnuts

Mix together the flours, oats, baking powder, salt and sugar in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, and 1/4 cup of the buttermilk.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the liquid ingredients; gently mix together, then add the rest of the buttermilk to make a thick batter.  Leave to rest in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.

While the batter rests, make the caramelized bananas.  Melt the butter over medium heat, then add the maple syrup and stir.  Add the bananas and the nuts; cook for two minutes, flip bananas, and cook for an additional two minutes.  Set aside, but keep them near the stove so they retain their warmth.

Cook the pancakes over medium heat for about three minutes on each side, or until golden brown.  Top with bananas, caramel sauce, and nuts and serve immediately.

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Whole Wheat Banana Bread with Chocolate and Ginger

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Every year around this time, all Bostonians take on a certain look: a few extra bags under the eyes, a hardening of the mouth, and slightly hunched shoulders.  It’s March, but the sun refuses to peek out from behind the clouds, and the temperature insists on hovering around 25 degrees.  Most of the snow that’s still hanging around has been gray and dirty for weeks, and there are patches of ice lurking on every sidewalk, just waiting to take you down.  It’s a pretty depressing time.

However, there’s a certain camaraderie that comes along with this mutual misery. “Stay warm out there!” says the cashier as he hands you your receipt.  You pretend-scoff and reply, “I’m not even sure that’s possible.”  ”Hey, we’re almost there,” he assures you.  ”Only a few more weeks until spring.”  ”Here’s hoping!” You smile and wave over your shoulder.  At least we’re all in this together, like an overcrowded subway car at 5pm.

In March, baking is more important than ever.  If you’re going to be stuck inside, you better make sure that there are delicious treats in there to keep you comfortable.  Plus, the oven churns a little more heat into the apartment, so you can shed your sweater and wear short sleeves while you work.  Can’t beat that!

This banana bread recipe is at once an homage both to the cold weather and the warmer days to come.  Super-sweet bananas provide a tropical flair, while spicy crystallized ginger reminds you of your rightful place in the Arctic (but comforts you while you’re there!).  And chocolate chunks are tossed in, because… well, do you really need an excuse to toss in chocolate?

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I also made two changes to the original recipe (from one of my favorite writers).  One of those changes you can probably guess (browned butter!), and the other (whole wheat flour) is to apologize to myself for all the simple carbs I’ve been eating lately… baguettes for lunch, pasta for dinner, Reese’s Puffs for dessert.

I promise, once this bread comes out of the oven, you’ll feel much better about the next few weeks of freezing cold temperatures.  I feel like I’m always harping on the way baked goods smell when they come out of the oven… but I actually left the apartment for a few minutes while the bread cooled, and when I came back, even I was impressed.  Seriously– it was heavenly enough to straighten even the most hunched pair of shoulders.

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P.S. I know this totally breaks the flow of this post, but I had Ferris Bueller’s Day Off playing in the background while I wrote, and I realized that this scene is even more uplifting than banana bread.  So just in case this post didn’t cheer you… observe.

Whole Wheat Banana Bread with Chocolate and Ginger
adapted from A Homemade Life

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup finely chopped candied ginger
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (from 3-4 bananas)
1/4 cup stirred plain yogurt (I used Fage 2%)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F.  Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a small skillet, brown the butter over medium-high heat.  Place in a heat-safe bowl to cool while you prep the remaining ingredients.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Stir in the chocolate and minced ginger until well combined.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs.  Add the mashed banana, yogurt, browned butter, and vanilla; stir to mix.

Add the banana mixture to the flour mixture, and using a rubber spatula, gently fold the ingredients together, being careful not to overmix.  Transfer batter to the prepared pan.

Bake until the bread is well-browned and a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.  Allow to cool in the pan for five minutes, then turn out the pan and cool completely (or slice it up immediately).

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Chocolate Macaroons with White Chocolate Drizzle

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I like a good food trend as much as the next person– I have eaten more than my fair share of cupcakes, and I think food trucks are the best thing since the invention of the drive-thru– but the recent frenzy over macarons just has me stumped.  Macarons are not to be confused with macaroons, which I’m showing you here; rather, they’re the tiny French cookie sandwiches that come in an array of flavors and Easter-egg hues.  Not only are they popping up in bakeries everywhere, but images of macarons grace greeting cards, calendars, tea towels… one of my favorite shops even carries little pill-boxes that look like macarons.  I will give you this: macarons are adorable.  But once I have one in my hand, and in my mouth, the appeal is lost for me.  I sat down in a cozy cafe last night with a latte and an itsy-bitsy, grass-green pistachio macaron; I bit into the macaron and tasted nothing so much as faintly nutty air.  And then I looked at my receipt and realized that my two bites of air had cost me two dollars.  I’m flummoxed.

While I was polishing off my coffee, two girls at the table next to me were ooooh-ing and ahhh-ing over a plate of many-colored macarons, and I overheard them calling them “macaroons.”  And I think that really gets to the heart of my frustration with the macaron craze.  I am something of a grammar and usage stickler (though I’ll be the first to admit that my use of punctuation is a bit… shall we say… free-spirited), so it makes me twitchy when words and names are used incorrectly– especially food names.  And when people look at a macaron and think they’re seeing a macaroon, it’s like the actual macaroon is just fading into obscurity, never to be recognized for the goodness that it is.  Besides, I think macaroons are far more delicious than macarons; they are closely related, in that they’re both meringue-based cookies, but macaroons are heartier, less frilly, and no doubt easier to make.  The fact that they’re packed with coconut doesn’t hurt, either.

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The recipe for a basic macaroon consists of only five ingredients: eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, salt, and coconut.  There are many possible variations to the basic recipe; you can add spices, chocolate chips, chopped nuts, or pretty much anything you’d add to any other cookie.  Today I chose cocoa powder.

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What you’re making here isn’t so much a batter; it’s just a big bowl of coconut lightly coated with chocolate.  It’s nice and loose.

Take the batter and drop it by rounded tablespoonfuls onto a sheet pan lined with parchment.  The parchment is especially important for these cookies since the batter is so sticky and messy.

In the oven, the macaroons rise a tiny bit, but mostly they just get deliciously crispy.

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At this point, the macaroons are already delicious– crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, with a brownie-like fudgy flavor.  But a drizzle of white chocolate shoves them right over the delicious edge.  All you need is a handful of white chocolate chips; melt them in the microwave, then sling the melted chocolate all over the cookies.  (It’s like splatter painting for grownups.)

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So, while these cookies may not be cutely symmetrical and pastel-colored, I hope you’ll agree that they’re worth your time.  If macaroons become the next big trend… well, you heard it here first, y’all!

Chocolate Macaroons with White Chocolate Drizzle
adapted from The Splendid Table

2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
4 Tablespoons cocoa powder
3 cups shredded sweetened coconut
1/4 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and cocoa powder.  Stir in coconut until it is fully incorporated.

Drop the batter by the Tablespoonful onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until the macaroons are just turning crisp.  Allow to cool.

In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave the white chocolate chips for about one minute, stirring after each 15 seconds.  When it is fully melted, use the tines of a fork to drizzle it over the cooled macaroons.

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Malted Waffles

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If you ask me, there’s nothing better than breakfast.  Lunch is pleasant enough, and dinner certainly has its charms, but breakfast is a little bit magical, if you think about it.  Breakfast invites you to begin your day with intention– even if it’s just a bowl of cereal and a cup of hot coffee, sitting down for breakfast means that your day begins with a deliberate act of self-care; instead of rushing frantically about the house, haphazardly getting dressed and throwing things in your work bag, and then bolting out the door to catch the bus, you’re choosing to wake up just a bit earlier so that you can sit down and feed yourself.  Breakfast lets you linger over your coffee and enjoy the first few moments of an unformed day; whatever was bothering you yesterday, you’ve had a chance to sleep on it, and whatever lies ahead, you don’t have to worry about it just yet. It’s a little moment of peace that’s available to you each and every morning.

Of course, some days, even a knockout breakfast can’t keep the day from throwing a few rocks at you.  Today started with these waffles– fluffy, nutty, and completely satisfying– but still, by the end of the day, Alex and I were both bruised, battered, and worn down.  Literally.  While taking Moose out for an afternoon walk, I stepped on a patch of ice and fell flat on the pavement– my first slip on the ice of the winter.  I went home with a spooked puppy, a sore hip and elbow, and a bleeding hand, and I felt really sorry for myself until Alex walked in a few hours later, having just been knocked off his bike by a careless person who opened her car door into the bike lane.  What can you even do after a day like that?  We chose to cope with wonton soup, gin and tonics, and hot baths.

Having a super-snuggly puppy lounging with us on the couch didn’t hurt, either.

Moose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I were a superstitious person, I might think that these pancakes were bad luck, but that’s just not possible.  They are packed with too much goodness to be anything but restorative and nourishing and wonderful.  And with one small exception, they can probably be made with things you have in your pantry already.  The one exception is malt powder, which you can find in the grocery store next to the powdered milk; it’s inexpensive, and once you have it, you’ll be tempted to put it in everything.  I’m working on a funky malted milkshake which I hope to show you here soon, once I get it right… but more on that later.

All the dry ingredients hanging out in the bowl together remind me of soil stratification.  And that reminds me that someday, there will be weather warm enough to see soil again.

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One thing about waffle batter: you have to be careful not to overmix the wet and dry ingredients, or the batter, and the resulting waffles, will become heavy and dense.  A gentle hand and a healthy dose of restraint will serve you well; just mix until everything is barely incorporated.

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Also, the thing about making waffles is… you need a waffle iron.  No two ways around it.  I wished for one for several years before finally buying one, and once I did, I couldn’t remember why on earth I waited so long.  Let that be a lesson to you– just go buy one now.  You’ll be glad you did.

While you could just use this batter to make pancakes, and that would probably be delicious, a waffle offers a crispy, caramelized crunch that a pancake just can’t.  I mean, look at those crusty corners:

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I apologize.  At this point I’m just throwing pictures of waffles at you for kicks and giggles.

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But after a day like today, I think I can revel in my morning waffles for just a bit.  Best wishes to all for a warm, happy week.

Malted Waffles
from Baked Explorations

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup malt powder
1 Tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
maple syrup and butter for serving

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, malt powder, and next four ingredients.  In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, and butter.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk mixture.  Gently fold ingredients together until just combined– there should still be lumps in the batter.

Cook waffles according to waffle iron manufacturer’s instructions, until caramelly brown and crispy.  Serve with butter and maple syrup.

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Baked Macaroni and Cheese

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I’m pretty sure there’s nothing more laughable than showing up on a food blog in this, the year of our Lord 2014, to extol the virtues of mac and cheese.  The fact that baked, cheesy noodles with creamy sauce and crispy crust is incredible will come as a surprise to just about no one in the modern world.  But I’m going to rave about it anyway.  This mac and cheese is a bright light during a cold, dark winter; it is as comforting as a warm blanket made of hugs.  You will want to eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and every other conceivable meal.

Alex has been traveling a lot this winter, so for about one week every month, I’m on my own.  While the temptation to subsist on take-out and breakfast cereal for dinner while he’s away is very real, cooking for myself seems like an important bit of self-care, especially when it’s freezing outside and I’m already prone to feeling blah anyway.  During my most recent solo week, I got an intense hankering for mac and cheese– but the real kind of mac and cheese, like my mom used to make on rare occasions, that actually start with a box of pasta and a couple blocks of cheddar.  I had always assumed that it must be a pain to make, since it was such a rare thing in our kitchen, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  It’s pretty much the easiest thing in the world; the hardest part is grating cheese.  (And yes, I do insist that you grate it yourself instead of buying a bag of pre-shredded cheese.  But you probably expected that.)

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While the recipe I used called for 10 ounces of plain cheddar, I decided to mix it up a bit while making use of some cheese I got from Fiscalini; I used 7 ounces of their plain raw milk cheddar, and 3 ounces of their Habanero cheddar.  It was perfect– the habanero added just a little bit of heat, and some pretty red flecks.  The recipe also called for one cup of the grated cheese to be mixed in with the noodles, and the rest to be scattered on top, but I misread the recipe decided to do it my own way and mixed in all the cheese; then I added fresh bread crumbs to form a crust on the top.  The bread I used to make the crumbs was sourdough with pepper Jack, which was a perfect addition, but any fresh bread crumbs would work equally well.

The first step in the mac and cheese process is almost like making a roux; melt a little bit of butter in a pan, and then stir flour into the melted butter and cook for a minute.  A true roux must cook until it turns anywhere from caramel to chocolate brown, but in this case, you simply cook long enough for the butter and flour to incorporate.

Once your almost-roux is made, you’ll stir in warmed milk and the cheese; once the cheese is melted, stir in cooked macaroni.  At this point in the process, I was worried that I had messed something up (besides the cheese proportions), because the mixture looked like soup.  I was just sure I had misunderstood the “8 ounces of pasta” direction, or that I had managed to pick a faulty recipe, but I decided to go with it.  I scattered a generous handful of breadcrumbs over the top, popped it in the oven, and hoped for the best.

During the next half-hour, magic happened in my oven.  The crust was toasty and crispy, and the noodle soup had formed into the delicious, creamy, almost pudding-like mac and cheese I’d been dreaming of.

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I don’t even want to talk about how quickly I singlehandedly polished off this pot of mac and cheese.  It wasn’t in one day… but that’s all I’ll say.

And lest you think I’m a terrible person for hogging all this cheesy goodness for myself, I’ll also tell you that I made a fresh batch as soon as Alex got home.

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Baked Macaroni and Cheese
adapted from Southern Living

2 cups milk
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
7 ounces good-quality Cheddar cheese
3 ounces Cheddar with habanero, Pepper Jack, or other spicy cheese
1/2 package elbow macaroni (about 8 ounces by weight), cooked
1 generous cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Microwave milk for 90 seconds.  Melt butter in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat; whisk in flour until smooth.  Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute.  Gradually whisk in warm milk and cook, whisking constantly, 5 minutes.

Whisk in salt, pepper, and shredded cheese and mix until smooth.  Stir in cooked noodles.  Transfer mixture to a 2 quart baking dish, and top with bread crumbs.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden and bubbly.

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Butterscotch Scones with Dark Chocolate

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What can I tell you about these scones that will accurately capture the wonder that they are, and the pure joy it brought me to make them?  Imagine that you had a free day and the luxury of spending several hours of it slowly, leisurely putting these scones together.  Imagine that it’s snowing gently while you’re measuring flour and chopping chocolate, and that you have a steady stream of coffee at your disposal.  And imagine that you have a puppy sleeping contentedly on your couch and back episodes of Top Chef playing in the background while you work.  That’s what today’s baking process was like for me, and that’s also how the scones taste: like perfect, uncomplicated comfort.

Sometimes it’s the simplest recipes that turn out to be the best ones.  This one is so simple that it didn’t even require a trip to the grocery store; everything I needed was already in my kitchen.  Of course, I have to admit that today, my kitchen just happened to contain two exceptional ingredients that gave me a little leg up: the world’s best butter, and some truly amazing chocolate.

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I carry this butter in my dairy department, and it is some of the most delicious butter I’ve ever tasted, hands down.  It’s made from double Devon cream, hence the name; double Devon cream is an extra heavy cream, about the consistency of buttercream frosting.  Imagine making butter from cream that heavy, and you’ll get a sense of how rich this butter is.

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And the chocolate!  This bar of Madecasse has been hanging out in our kitchen since Christmas, when Olivia brought it to our apartment (P.S. Olivia, I hope it’s ok that I chopped up your chocolate and put it in scone batter).  Not only is it delicious– super dark and full of sea salt and crunchy nibs– but it also has sentimental appeal; Alex and I stayed at some family friends’ beach house during our honeymoon, and they stocked the kitchen with a smorgasbord of amazing snacks for us, including this same chocolate.

Of course, if you don’t have access to these specific products, any salted butter and dark chocolate will work perfectly well.

I also added one additional twist to the original recipe: browning the butter.  The cookbook author provides a nice monologue at the beginning of the recipe about the virtues of true butterscotch flavor, so it surprised me that he didn’t choose to brown the butter as well; I will say that it adds about an extra hour to the prep time for these scones, but I’d also assert that the result is worth every minute.

The scone batter mixes up much like any other baked-good batter; the dry ingredients (in this case, flour, baking powder, brown sugar, and salt) are whisked together, and the wet ingredients (eggs and heavy cream) are whisked together in a separate bowl.  Before the two come together, the cooled brown butter must be cut into the flour mixture.  While my recipe suggests that you do this with a food processor, I say phooey on that.  I would love to have a food processor, but in a kitchen the size of a shoebox, I really can’t sacrifice the counterspace– and besides, when you’re cutting butter into flour, using your hands is really the best method.  It allows you to be more thorough, and it gets a little more love in there.

Once the butter is mixed into the flour– it should look like coarse meal– stir in the chocolate chunks.  A handy tip for chopping chocolate: if you want your scones to look nice and clean, with no flecks of chocolate scattered throughout, it’s a good idea to strain your chocolate chunks before adding them to the batter.  I find that a slotted spoon works perfectly for this task; the chocolate chunks stay safely in the spoon while all the shards fall through.

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You might think that keeping all this chocolate dust out of the batter is a terrible waste… but I disagree.  You can always sprinkle the dregs over a scoop of ice cream.

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Finally, add the egg and cream mixture to the flour and chocolate mixture, and using a rubber spatula, very gently mix everything together.  Don’t even worry if there are still bits of flour that don’t incorporate; the less you mix, the fluffier your scones will be.  You should end up with a loose, sticky, messy-looking dough, which you’ll turn onto a floured work surface and gently knead two or three times.

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Finally, cut the dough into wedges and bake until the scones are puffy and golden brown.

As the scones bake, your house will fill with an aroma that’s like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, but somehow more buttery… more sophisticated… more refined.  As soon as they come out of the oven, brew yourself a cup of coffee or tea for dunking purposes. As much as I love coffee, I’m inclined to recommend tea here… preferably chai tea.  If you can find chocolate chai, so much the better.

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Happy February, happy snow day, and happy scones!  Here’s hoping each of you finds a slow and easy day in your immediate future.

Butterscotch Scones with Dark Chocolate
adapted from The Modern Baker

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces salted butter
4 ounces dark chocolate, cut into small chunks
2 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream

About an hour before you want to assemble the batter, cut 4 ounces (8 tablespoons, or one stick) of salted butter into small pieces and place in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  After the butter melts, it will start foaming and crackling; when this happens, shake the pan a few times every couple minutes, and listen closely for the crackling to slow.  When the foaming and crackling dies down, shake the pan again– the butter should have a very toasty, caramelly aroma at this point– and when brown bits rise to the surface, immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into a heatsafe container.  Allow the browned butter to cool for about 20 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for half an hour.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400° F.  Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and cream.

When butter is cold, cut into small pieces and add to flour mixture.  Using your hands, rub and pinch the chunks of butter into the flour until the mixture looks coarse and grainy.  Stir in the chocolate chunks, then add the egg and cream mixture.  Gently stir with a rubber spatula until the ingredients are just combined.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead two or three times to further combine the ingredients.  Cut the dough into three equal pieces; pat each piece into a 5-inch disk, and cut each disk into four wedges.

Arrange scones on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving about two inches between each scone.  Bake until well-risen and golden, about 15 minutes.  Serve immediately with a warm beverage.

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