Snow day #2 - baking

....let the baking begin!

I woke up this morning to bright sun reflecting off of yesterday's snow.  Beautiful.  On the off chance that the farmer's market was open this morning I ventured out to see what the snow had done to the city.

This usually busy street was almost deserted this morning.  The whole neighborhood was quiet, except for the sound of a few snow shovels working away.

Those who actually went out last night seemed to have a good time in the snow :)

The farmers' market was closed  (no big surprise) but at least it got me out!
I started to make dough for cookies yesterday and after the snow, the stew and the dough making I just didn't have the patience or energy to actually make the cookies.  Guess what I'm doing today!?

Sugar cookies
as found in an issue of Gourmet Magazine, 2005
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk together flour and salt in a small bowl.
Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Divide the dough into 2 balls and refrigerate at least 2 hours (I left mine in the fridge overnight)

You can decorate your cookies however you like.  I decided to paint them in colored egg wash.  If you choose to do this you have to do it BEFORE you bake the cookies.  Eggwash: I used 2 eggs and a splash of water and divided them into a muffin tin (why not!) and added food coloring.

Now it's time to cut out the cookies!

The recipe recommends you cook them for 10-12 minutes.  My cookies were definitely not done after 12. I left them in for 15-17 minutes depending on how thick I rolled them out.  This is a basic sugar cookie recipe.  You could add flavoring to the dough or decorate the cookies with colored sugar, royal icing, raisins.. whatever you want!  I didn't think this recipe made enough cookies (not sure why I thought I needed more than the cookies below, but.. in case you are making these as gifts, I would double the recipe.


......Snowed in!

.....Perfect opportunity to relax, cook, bake, and make TWO trips to the grocery store.

There was a threat of snow and having lived in D.C. for most of my life I know that either it won't snow at all or the city will be buried.  Surprisingly we actually got snow...lots of it....over a foot of it actually!

I was supposed to run with my running group this morning at 8:00 AM.  That was canceled.  I get to sleep in!  I was then supposed to work a lunch party at the restaurant.  That was canceled.  I get to relax and have a leisurely breakfast and cook a stew for dinner!  I've been wanting to make a stew for a while for several reasons.  First, I love stews.  For some reason slow cooked meat, vegetable, wine, onions and time just meld together and create something amazing.  Second, it's the perfect dish for my lifestyle right now.  I need something that will keep longer than a day or two, that will get better with time and that I can easily re-heat when I come home late from events.  Stew it is!

To find a receipe I went back to my fool proof chef.  Jamie Oliver.  He is one of my first favorite "celebrity" chef. His recipes are fairly simple, straight forward, classic and delicious.

Jool's Favorite Beef Stew
Jamie's Dinners
the essential family cookbook

olive oil
1 onion - chopped
a handful of sage leaves
1 3/4 lbs stewing steak or beek skirt (I used chuck) cut into 2 inch cubes
flour to dust cover the meat in
 2 parsnips, peeled and quartered

4 carrots, peeled and halved
1/2 a butternut squash, de-seeded, and roughly diced 

some small potatoes (I left these out)
2 tbl of tomato puree

1/2 a bottle of red wine 
1 1/4 cup beef broth

Preheat the over to 300 degrees.  Melt the butter and olive oil in your pan then add the onions and sage leaves and let them cook for a bit.  While this is cooking, salt and pepper your beef cubes and lightly cover them in flour (this will thicken the sauce).  
Note: I slightly alerted this recipe for two reasons.  First, I omitted one of the two parsnips because the grocery store only had one.  I guess "snow storm" means "go buy all the parsnips".  I figured this wouldn't change the recipe too much. Second, I had a strawberry blonde moment and bought an acorn squash instead of a butternut squash.  I only realized my mistake when I got home when it was too late.  I just went with it.  While it tasted just fine the acorn squash completely disintegrated in the stew and turned into mush.  The stew tasted GREAT but it didn't look all that pretty.  Next time I'll try it with butternut squash.  
Once the meat is floured go ahead and put it in the pot, along with all the chopped up vegetables, the 1/2 bottle of wine, tomato puree (I used tomato paste), beef brother and a little salt and pepper.  Bring it to a boil, cover it

Jamie recommends you cook the stew in the oven for 3-4 hours depending on the size of the chunks of meat and how fresh the meat is.  I cooked it for 2 and a half and I think it was too long.  I wanted there to be more liquid in the stew but most of it was gone by the time I took it out of the oven.  To fix it i added a little more beef broth and it helped.  Just take a peek once and a while and check on your stew.

[Insert text message from the restaurant Maite D'.  My dinner event was canceled. Horray!]  Time to make dough for cookies!

On deck:

Basic sugar cookies to be turned into christmas cookies


Ina Garten's Rugelach



Identity Crisis

...What's in a name?

While my love for all things Thomas Keller has not changed, the time I have to work through his complicated recipes has.  I have not given up on working through the Bouchon cookbook but it has proved to be more time consuming than I originally thought.  I will keep on picking away at all the delicious bistro recipes but this blog will concentrate more on the tangents I am taking along the way than actually cooking my way through his cookbook.  Sooo.... I need a new blog name!

Thoughts? Ideas? I need help!

....who you calling a fruitcake?

... I woulnd't call this a fruit cake.  
I'd call it, tradition, spice, breakfast, dessert, a snack, an excuse to bake with your family, a reason to remember loved ones...

It wouldn't be Christmas without Grandmaman's fruit cake.  When I was young I would make them for my teachers now I make them for parties and friends.  It's just not the holidays without fruit cake for dessert as a post holiday dinner snack with tea.  While I'm keeping the recipe a family secret... here are the steps:)

Grandmaman's Fruit Cake


1 stick of butter
(I know you are always supposed to bake with unsalted butter but we've always used salted so that's what I'm sticking with)
2 eggs
      Baking powder
         Glaceed fruits
(These are optional.  I don't personally like them but what's a "fruit cake" without fruit? A spice cake!  That's the way I like them.... all spice..no fruit.

Mix the flour, baking powder, spices and sugar together.  They spices look so pretty!

  Add the butter and eggs and glaceed fruits.  My mother and I made 7 cakes!  4 with fruits and 3 without. :)  Now the fun part starts. You COULD use a spoon to mix everything together but we use our hands! Who needs a spoon when you have two hands.  Ready...set...squish between your fingers!

At first it feels cold because of the eggs, then it feels greasy because of the butter, then you start to feel the velvety softness of the flour and the graininess of the sugar.  As they mix together they lose their individual textures and turn into a sticky blob of delicious dough.
Finger licking allowed.  In fact, finger licking almost mandatory at this point.

The dough should mix into a moist but not sticky dough that you can pat into a ball.  Butter and flour a loaf pan and pat the dough into the pan, making sure all the corners of filled in.  I brushed egg wash on the top of the "spices only" cakes.  It added a little shine to them.  These cakes bake at a low heat (below 300 degrees) for over an hour, leaving your house/apartment, studio smelling of sugar and spice and everything nice!


On another note, my father has recently convinced me to sign up for my second half marathon.  (I ran my first this past November with my dad.  He was nice enough to be my pacer.. see picture!)  Thinking I needed a motivator to keep me running through the winter I signed up for The National Half Marathon is on March 20th.
I have3 months to show myself I can beat my first half marathon time and still find time to COOK!  Training alone as it turns out is pretty hard so I've signed up to run with a training group at a local running store.

Tomorrow is my first "track practice" at 6:50 AM.  Not only do I not yet consider myself a true "runner" but I am definitely not a morning person yet... Time for bed! 

A special thanks to my iPhone for taking pretty good pictures for this blog while I was waiting for a new memory card for my camera.  


The Threat of Gray

"....If it is gray the next morning you know you did it wrong..."

...is what the pastry chef at my restaurant told me when I asked her how to cover my truffles in chocolate.  "Well you have to temper the chocolate.  If it is gray the next morning when you look at them you know you did it wrong.  The chocolate didn't temper."  You don't just dunk them in chocolate and have them come out shiny and pretty????  Guess it's not as easy as I thought.  I suppose that's why there are professionals :)

Melt 2/3 of your chocolate until it is reaches about 90 degrees.  Add the last 1/3 of your chocolate bar and stir it.  It shouldn't completely melt.  It should melt just enough for the sugar crystals in the melted chocolate to mimic the sugar crystals in the cooler chocolate.  Once you think you've done this correctly (uummmm....ok) it's time to dip your little truffles in!

I got down and dirty and used my fingers.  Spoons are acceptable too I suppose but the way I see it, if you are going to play with chocolate you might as well get your fingers dirty.

I dipped, got dirty, put them back on the tray and back in the freezer.  Now all I have to do it wait.

Fingers crossed!


Chocolate is better than mushrooms when it comes to truffles

...I'm sorry but it's true.  For me, chocolate truffles beat out the real truffles 100-none.  I know all about how truffles are a prized mushroom and one should relish the smell one of one when it shaved on pasta or risotto or used in sauces.  I, personally, do not like them.  I am far from a picky eater but the earthy smell of truffles gets to me.  Granted that might be because truffle oil and and the restaurant I work at are synonymous.  Does the smell of truffles make me think of work? Probably.

Try them! Tell me what you think!  Black or white they have a particular taste.. to each his/her own!

To celebrate truffle season (white ones are in season right now.. as well as black ones) I thought I would make chocolate ones!  Stand aside earthy smell... hello chocolate heaven!

My mother and I have made truffles for years around the holidays.  They are relatively simple to make..but boy are they messy!

12 oz of semi sweet chocolate
(I used Ghirardelli but any kind of good chocolate will do)
1 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Heat cream in a sauce pan until very hot.  Break up the chocolate and put into a bowl.
Pour hot cream over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.  Refrigerate until firm.

Once the chocolate isn't too soupy anymore (but not hard to the point where you can't take out a firm spoonful), take the mixture out of the fridge.  I took mine out this morning before work..when it was pretty hard, hoping that it would be the perfect consistency when I got home from work.  Wrong.  It was too mushy.  After I took a little scoop off the top for a "post long hard day at work" snack I took  pastry bag and piped little balls of chocolate ganache onto a cold cookie sheet and put them in the freezer.  I'm hoping I can then roll the balls in my hands to smooth them out.

(Note to self... must learn to use the pastry bag better.  By the end of this operation my hands were covered in chocolate!!)

Tomorrow:  Smoothing out the little chocolate truffles and coating them in a chocolate shell!

(Hand and truffle image thanks to: http://www.mycological.com/products/index.03.html)


Pfeffernusse success

Just like they were store bought...but better!

Every Christmas my family and I buy Pfeffernusse Cookies.  This spicy German Christmas cookie is a little soft and chewy in the center, harder on the outside and covered in powdered sugar.  What's not to love?!  I had my doubts about tackling the Pfeffernusse but I figured I'd give it a try.  It is like a glorified ginger/molasses cookie covered in sugar.  Amazing.

This recipe makes a lot of cookies..which is perfect for gift giving!

1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup honey
1/2 unsalted butter  (the recipe I used called for 1/4 cup shortening and a 1/4 cup margarine.  I am trying to stay away from margarine as much as a can after reading that it isn't as good for you as people claim.  I also don't usually keep shortening around so a stick of good old fashion butter seemed to be a good substitute.  I'm sure German ladies used butter back in the day anyway)
Melt the molasses, honey and butter together in a saucepan.. stirring to make sure everything is well incorporated and set aside to cool off.

2 eggs
Add the eggs to the mixture and mix

4 cups of all purpose flour
3/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground nutmeg 
(You can use a whole nut on a microplaner...which is what I usually do when a recipe calls for nutmeg but I find that when it comes to baking I need too much to spend time grating it so I use the powdered kind. )
1 tsp ground clove
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground anise seed 
(the recipe calls for 2 tsp of anise extract.  Instead of buying a bottle of extract I would probably never use again I just ground up anise seeds and added it like the rest of the spices.  Worked just fine!)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt
Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Add the molasses mixture and incorporate well.  This should form a nice ball of dough (mine was a little sticky).  Cover it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  A chef friend of mine told me the longer the cookie dough rests in the fridge the moister the cookies will be.  Good thing I had to go to work..... 5 hours later I was ready to bake the cookies!
 Preheat over to 325

Use a melon baller ( I used my teaspoon measuring spoon) to scoop out small balls of the dough.  Roll them around in your hands to make them nice and round and put them on your cookie sheet ( I really recommend using a silicone pad on you baking sheet.  Once you go silicone you never go back!)
Space the balls about an inch appart and bake them in a 325 degree oven for 10- 15 minutes.  I found 15 minutes to be perfect for my dough.
 powdered sugar 
(the recipe called for 1 cup but I'm pretty sure I used way more.  
Most of it ended up on my shirt or on the floor though..oops.)

When the cookies come out transfer them to a plate or cutting board and cover in them in powdered sugar.  It makes a mess but the cookies taste so good! 


The recipe I used and switched around a bit can be found here: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/pfeffernusse-cookies/detail.aspx)


Almost a year later... I'm back!

Hello again.

A new large amount of work and shockingly long hours at the restaurant put this blog on the back burner for almost a year now. Chances are no one noticed... but in case you did.. sorry! Since my last post I have moved out of my townhouse and into my own place, discovered a love for plants, red curry, and that one should not be afraid of whole milk, bacon or fat (in moderation of course).

My friend Anne started a food nutrition blog not long ago and she urged me to start mine up again... :)

Today is the first snow of the season..fitting because of my last post.
Saturday morning.... the morning after a long 13 hour day at the restaurant...first snow.... that means time for yummy breakfast!

Working so much hasn't given me a lot of time to go grocery shopping.

Current Refrigerator items:
Gatorade (for running! Oh yes.. I've also become an amateur runner)
Apple waiting to be made into apple sauce
Old bread
Parmesan cheese

What can a girl make with all this?? FRENCH TOAST!

My sister told me she made French Toast not long ago and so I give her credit for this great idea.

Day old bread (or older like in my case..more like weeks old but it's ok!)
2 eggs
cinnamon (if desired)

Crack the eggs into a shallow dish and whisk them. Add milk. I'm sure you are supposed to measure the milk out but I just added some until it was a nice yellow-y milk-y color. Add the cinnamon to taste.

Plunge slices of slightly stale bread into the mixture and let it sit until it has soaked up as much of the egg/milk as it can. I would flip the bread once to make sure both sides are nice and covered.

Move slices of bread into a greased fry-pan and let them toast until both sides are golden brown. Top off with maple syrup and enjoy!

(pictures to come.. my camera is being finicky. )

Next.....Holiday cookies!
In order to battle the stress of working holiday events I am going to bake holiday cookies!

Cookies to try:
* Thomas Keller's Holiday Sugar Cookies
* Pfeffernusse Cookies (a family favorite!)