Walnut & Salted Caramel Tart

The first snow is always sacred. This year it fell steadily and softly, without any wind, just in time for Thanksgiving. I’m sitting at home with a cup of tea, marveling at the silent white landscape. …KEEP READING

Perfectly Rustic Apple Tart

Somehow—even though it feels like just minutes ago I was lying on a blanket in my backyard reading in the shade of towering sunflowers—it’s already November. A week ago I woke up to snow. I watched it with a cup of tea between my hands as visions of coziness danced in my head.  …KEEP READING

A sublimely summery watermelon cocktail

When I turned five years old, my sister threw me a party. It was classic June New England weather; cool and rainy with fog hovering over the rolling hills. There was a scavenger hunt—I remember donning rain boots and a bright yellow slicker over my party dress and following clues to where the field met the woods at the edge of our yard. We moved in groups, huddled over clues in the bird bath, and ran to the forsythia bushes where, under an arched cave of branches, we found temporary tattoos. 
…KEEP READING

Dark Chocolate, Sea Salt, and Brand New Beginnings

CD0E0853-8CD6-4C81-93E9-5EEC1C8FB2E2At 11 PM on a Saturday night, I sat down to start on work for one of my four jobs. A few hours later, as I dipped a granola bar into a mug of watery hot chocolate from a package that’s been sitting in a kitchen drawer for over a year, I felt it might be time to reevaluate things. When I proceeded to scald my entire tongue on a sip of the aforementioned beverage, I decided it was time  time for a flat out reality check. The facts:

  • I am 24 years old
  • I am wearing size XL sweatpants from a college I did not attend, a mustard yellow fleece, a wool sweater, and fuzzy Eskimo slippers.
  • I just got home from a 12 hour shift working retail at a pop-up holiday market specializing in small batch, sustainably-sourced artisanal foods
    • I’ve probably used the phrase “small batch, sustainably-sourced artisanal foods” about 50 times today
  • For dinner, I ate ¾ of a frozen pepperoni pizza, to which I added a healthy does of salt.
  • I recently quit my job.
  • I’ve given up a salary, membership to a fancy gym, pre-paid T pass, health benefits, and paid vacation to enter the world of food writing, which is not exactly known for being lucrative.
  • My dream life is one in which I spend half the time cooking and baking and the other half writing, and yet
    • I have been using my roommate’s cast iron skillet for the past year and a half
      • I do not own a food processor, a stand mixer, a single baking sheet, cake pans, or a good knife
        • and am, in point of fact, an incredible mooch who has been reaping the benefits of well equipped friends since graduating college

And yet…I’ve never been this kind of happy. Armed with a well-worn wooden spoon, a hand mixer, and a Le Creuset stainless steel spatula, I am ready to take on the next adventure, whatever that may be.

DCC98F70-7F6D-4186-B0FC-1CC64CC0E06286A4CCAD-D065-4F6D-9A86-81D2B9C98D9BMost people imagine their lives as movies. I dream of mine as a cookbook. You know, the kind where after several pages of plum galettes, elegant cakes and heaping summer salads, there I am, looking ever-so-chic, stirring a shining copper pot without a care in the world. But realistically, a cookbook of my  life would involve meals like: yogurt straight from the carton with a few walnuts on every spoonful, eaten standing up at the counter. And maybe a short inspirational piece on how to eat Trader Joe’s potstickers in bed, dipping each bite into a bowl of soy sauce, all while watching Jane the Virgin on Netflix. The pictures would show me in bulky sweaters and my fuzzy slippers, squatting with my nose pressed against the oven door at 10 PM on a weeknight.

ED78E759-E0E5-4BEF-BBF5-84161E10FB33DEB1F89F-3CA3-4D90-89FA-E526E7A049B9So there you have it. I’m neither glamorous nor well equipped, but I’m one tiny step closer to defining myself in the world of food. After an incredibly educational year of e-commerce and site merchandising, I’m suddenly immersed in the world of freelance writing, working for a successful blog and artisan food company, and filling up every hour I can with odd jobs like helping a painter convert slides and negatives to a digital archive. I’m about to move from Boston to a rambling old house in New Haven, CT, where I’ll be living with 5 other people and a puppy. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That’s 5 new subjects for my baking experiments…

2FB603C0-2191-44AE-9CE1-44EA073327A2AFD53546-5A97-4BAD-ACCF-27CD6A346F50Up until now, I’ve been coasting along, using cooking as a hobby, an antidote to a stressful day. Now it’s time to get serious. I feel like I should be taking an oath, one hand on my heart and the other on The Joy of Cooking.

25C81202-3C29-42CF-A818-F45E733F5F51A116D71A-CAAF-4DD8-9363-58E967099BC1Whoever you are, and from wherever you’re reading this, I’m so grateful and I can’t wait to keep sharing my haphazard culinary adventures with you. My goal is to inspire you to bake and cook. Trust me, if I can do it, so can you. I’m the one who up until the age of 10 refused to eat pie because I didn’t like the texture. Really!  So here’s a recipe that is incredibly easy and will guarantee ooh’s and ahh’s from everyone who takes a bite. Made with dark chocolate and sea salt, these cookies are rich, soft, crumbly, and sophisticated: perfect after any meal with a cup of coffee or tea. They’re from the inimitable Dorie Greenspan and Pierre Hermé, a fan of whose once claimed that a daily dose of these cookies would ensure planetary peace and happiness. It is physically impossible to eat only one.

Recipe for Dorie Greenspan & Pierre Hermé’s World Peace Cookies,
from The Splendid Table  (my notes in italics)
Ingredients
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar (the third time I made these, I used organic brown sugar and I swear it made them better…)
  • 1/4 cup sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
  2. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. (Really do the full two minutes–it makes a difference in the final outcome)
  3. Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface (it will look like a giant pile of crumbs), gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Getting Ready to Bake:

  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
  2. Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.
  3. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

34839AD7-3A0B-4E71-BCBA-973CCF021A6B4A0D0F70-9796-4983-9916-01E16219E9C7Try them and let me know what you think!

Xo,

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A Guido’s Thanksgiving Feast

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When I daydream about coming home for the holidays, I think of wearing slippers and cozy sweaters for days at a time, sitting in front of the fire until my eyelids begin to droop, and waking up to views of the rolling blue Berkshire hills. Mostly, however, I think of cooking. I think of dreaming up menus at the kitchen table surrounded by a small fortress of cookbooks, writing out grocery lists, and going to Guido’s Fresh Marketplace. For someone who considers writing grocery lists a hobby and who thinks about food 24/7, Guido’s is like paradise. I’ve been there over 1200 times (I did the math), but every time I come home, in summer, winter, spring or fall, shopping there still feels like a treat.

Thanksgiving us upon us, but let’s be honest, I’m nowhere near ready to roast a whole turkey. I’ve seen my mom’s technique, which involves dunking the bird in a giant, plastic-lined industrial bucket full of brine a full 3 days before the feast, and then painstakingly spreading herbed butter under every inch of the bird’s skin. If you’re like me, you find that process slightly intimidating, but nonetheless adore the flavors of the classic Thanksgiving feast.

This year, I partnered with Guido’s to create a Thanksgiving menu, Little Sister style; in other words, fun, festive, and easy! I combined trusty resources like the New York Times food section, my favorite food blogs, and a few age-old family recipes with the gorgeous bounty of Guido’s Fresh Marketplace to come up with the following menu:

Shrimp Steamed in Beer with Tartar Sauce

This might be a little outside the usual Thanksgiving agenda, but it’s a quick, easy, no-fail hors d’oeuvre for entertaining season. My family learned the recipe in Key West, where they cook the shrimp whole. The tartar sauce is my grandma’s recipe. While its roots are Floridian, the warm flavors of beer, cloves, onion and bay leaves are perfect for a late fall evening. Mazzeo’s fresh-caught Alabama shrimp can’t be beat.

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For the Shrimp

1 lb. fresh caught shrimp

1 Bottle beer

1 T whole cloves

1 Bay leavef

1 Onion, roughly chopped

1 Dill pickle, roughly chopped

Combine beer, onion, cloves, bay leaf and pickle in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add shrimp, cover pan and bring to a boil again. Turn to simmer and watch carefully. They’ll be pink, firm and done very quickly!

For the Tartar Sauce

1 C mayonnaise

1 Clove garlic

3 Scallions

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. Capers

a sprinkle of salt and a grind of pepper

About 5 leaves of parsley

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly combined.

Roasted Fennel, Satsuma Orange, and Pomegranate Salad

from Brooklyn Supper

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This salad is simple but gorgeous, the roasted saltiness of the fennel and red onion contrasted with the bright crunch of pomegranate seeds. Click here for the recipe.

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Stuffing-Stuffed Acorn Squash

If you ask me, the whole point of Thanksgiving is the stuffing. Everything else is just a vehicle. Why not showcase the flavors of stuffing—crumbly cornbread, warm chestnuts, sweet sausage, and sage—by piling it into halves of velvety acorn squash? The type of squash is up to you! From local butternut to speckled Kabocha to bright orange Kuri, Guido’s selection is overflowing.

For the Squash (serves 8)

4 Acorn squash

1 T olive oil

½ tsp. coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 425°. Halve each squash and scrape out seeds from center. Lightly oil the cut edges and center of squash. Oil the bottom of a baking dish or roasting pan, and sprinkle salt over surface. Bake squash cut side down for 25 minutes. Let cool slightly before flipping, as hot steam will escape. Set aside.

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For the Stuffing

2 T butter

1 Onion, diced

¾ lb. sweet Italian sausage (Guido’s sells it freshly-made, in bulk!)

1 ½ cups Olivia’s Original Cornbread Stuffing Croutons

15 oz. Whole roasted and peeled chestnuts (After years of agonizing over roasting whole chestnuts and multiple injuries sustained from the peeling process, we now buy Guido’s Blanchard & Blanchard’s Organic Whole Roasted and Peeled Chestnuts)

1 C whole milk

2 Stalks celery

3 Sage leaves, finely chopped

Salt & Pepper to Taste

Cook the onion in butter until golden brown. Add the sausage and sage and cook, stirring constantly until meat is browned and cooked through. Add the chestnuts, cornbread, milk, salt and pepper and mix well. Cook on low heat until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated and the cornbread has lost some of its crunch. Once stuffing is done, pile it into the cavity of each squash half and bake for 5 -10 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley to serve.

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Quick-Blanched Haricot Verts

Guido’s deliciously crisp haricots verts don’t need anything other than a quick blanch in boiling water to bring out their bright, cheerful flavor.

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Cranberry Orange Curd Tart

From the New York Times

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I couldn’t resist the locally grown cranberries that greeted me in a tower of deep red when I walked in the door of Guido’s. But instead of cranberry sauce, why not eat them for dessert? This New York Times recipe combines everything good about tangy cranberries and orange zest with the luxurious creaminess of curd, spreading it to bake in a buttery, roasted hazelnut crust (that just so happens to be gluten free!) I was initially intimidated, but take it from me: curd is not scary at all, and this will become a new staple on your Thanksgiving table. Click here for the recipe

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Pear & Ginger Upside Down Cake with Pomegranate Compote

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There’s something about a rainy day in fall. Most of the trees are completely bare, their black, lichened branches hovering uncertainly against the grey sky, but some still revel in a subtle glory of tarnished yellow and onionskin brown. I watch from the seventh floor as people move along the sodden sidewalks below; tiny specks beneath their bobbing umbrellas.

After work I wander through Back Bay as the sky darkens to orange-grey. The browntstones on either side of the wide street glow cheerfully from within. I love this time of day, when people huddle against the growing cold, rushing this way and that toward home, a dimly lit bar, a loved one. I take in snippets of other peoples’ lives as I walk; brief, fragmented vignettes into front parlors, window seats, and turret-like bedrooms. One living room is downright boastful, with two crystal chandeliers and several extravagant urns. I wonder: could a person ever be cozy in a room full of urns?

I make my way back home through the rainy night to my second-story apartment on a quiet street in Jamaica Plain. My roommates greet me with a familiar ‘HellOOO-oooooo’ as I climb the stairs. I shed my jacket and boots as the pipes wheeze and clank, bringing our ancient, hulking radiators to life. In this kind of weather, and with so much tragedy in the world, I am acutely grateful for the everyday routines I usually take for granted. The sound of the radiators. A hot shower. The chipped blue and white mug that reminds me of my childhood. Our awkward futon that feels more like a boat than a couch. Living with people I truly love.

When the world seems to be falling completely apart, I focus on things that still make sense. I bake and practice gratitude. I try to generate love and send it out into the world,  just as a cake warms the kitchen with the healing smells of sugar and butter.

Pear Ginger Upside Down Cake with Pomegranate Compote and Orange-Infused Whipped Cream

Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Broadway Books, 1997)

The original cake called for dried fruit (apricots and prunes), but I’m not ready to succumb quite so thoroughly to winter yet. I swapped the dried fruit for ripe pears and crystallized ginger, made the compote into a cake topping, and added some toasted hazelnuts for warmth. This cake looks like a glowing garnet pendant and is perfect for a rainy November evening.

Ingredients

Fruit

3 tablespoons butter

3/4 cup light brown sugar

3 Firm-ripe Anjou Pears

4 Pieces crystallized ginger

Batter

1 cup cake flour (if you’re like me and can’t justify buying a whole bag of specialty flour for one recipe, there’s an easy fix: measure out one cup of all purpose flour, remove 2 tablespoons, and replace with either corn starch or arrowroot powder. Make sure to sift at least 4 times! Learn more about this flour substitution here)

1 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

2 eggs room temperature

1 cup buttermilk (when I don’t have buttermilk on hand, I substitute 1/2 cup regular whole milk and 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened yogurt)

Compote Topping

Seeds of 1 pomegranate

1 tablespoon sugar

Zest of 1 orange

To Serve

Whipped Cream (whip 3/4 Cup heavy cream with the grated zest of one orange and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla)

1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°
  2. Prepare the fruit: melt the butter in a 10-inch cast-iron pan over medium heat. Stir in the sugar, cook until it’s dissolved, then remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Slice the pears into thin half moons and cut ginger into diamond shapes.  Arrange the pears and ginger over the bottom of the pan.
  4. Make the batter: mix the sifted flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in the eggs one at a time until smooth. Scrape down the bowl, stir again to blend in any bits of butter, then stir in the buttermilk (on low speed or with a spoon). Add the dry ingredients in thirds to the butter mixture. Scrape up the batter from the bottom of the bowl to make sure it’s well mixed.
  5. Assemble the cake: smooth the batter over the fruit.
  6. Bake: Place the cake in the center of the oven and bake until springy to the touch and beginning to pull away from the pan (about 35 minutes). Let cool for a few minutes, then invert onto a cake plate.
  7. While the cake is baking, sprinkle the pomegranate sees with a tablespoon sugar and the grated zest of one orange. Stir to incorporate, cover and refrigerate
  8. Once the cake is cool, spread the sugared pomegranate seeds over the top, pressing gently so the seeds don’t roll everywhere.
  9. Top with orange-zest whipped cream to serve.

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Ode to the Morning Moon Cafe

sellarsThis morning the smell of coffee reminded me overwhelmingly of Maine. I closed my eyes, breathed in, and felt like I was 10 years old.

We used to rent a cabin in Brooklin, Maine with my dad for two weeks every summer—we’d load up our bikes and Tevas and my brother, sister and I would pile into the car. I used to complain that the only snacks provided were cherries and dark chocolate. Imagine! I remember the red and white cooler in the way back, sweating from the heat. You had to climb over the seat to get those cherries. Whenever I’d ask how close we were, as we drove over iron bridges and through small towns with names like ‘Peru’ and ‘Florida,’ the answer from the front was always ‘We’ve got a ways to go.’

Our cabin stood on a wide lawn that dropped suddenly down to the water. It was surrounded on both sides by tall, dark pines. The grass was dry and scrubby, the beach full of endlessly climbable rocks. The house was owned by heavy drinkers, or so we assumed based on the inordinate number of shot glasses on the kitchen shelves. One summer my best friend Eliza came with us, and the two of us would play “bar” for hours on end, one of us pouring water into the shot glasses while the other, playing the loyal patron, said “Hit me big, Paul, it’s been a rough day.”

I can’t say I remember what my dad fed us on those trips—other than the clam bake we used to have down by the beach. (I, of course, forsook fresh clams for hot dogs and potato chips.) We’d take the compost out to the corner of the lawn where the woods began, dumping our corn husks, egg shells and coffee grounds as the gulls wheeled impatiently above.

The town of Brooklin was tiny. I remember the library, the general store, and of course, the Morning Moon Café. I remember its wooden booths, the whine of the screen door as you walked in and the cheerful buzz of chatter, the clink of white china plates… It was the ultimate treat—a break from the Cornflakes in our tiny rented kitchen. After a breakfast of blueberry pancakes with a side of bacon, we’d bike back home. We’d lug Bridget, my dad’s old green rowboat, down to the rocky beach, climb in, and spend the day floating in that beautiful little cove. Or we’d row out to an island overgrown with spiky pines, its rocky shore dappled with endless crevices and tiny colorful tide pools.

We’d pick blueberries in the heat of the day, basking in the pale sunlight, plucking the small, tart berries from lichen-covered branches. My sister and brother would pick industriously, filling their buckets beyond capacity, while I stood solidly in front of my chosen bush, eating berry after berry after berry. We’d head home with our blue loot. At my sister’s insistence, we’d stop at the general store for heavy cream.

When I googled the Morning Moon Café out of nostalgia, a big red banner reading “Permanently Closed” blared across the page. Something tiny sank in my heart. So this is an ode to those Maine days of my childhood—of hot, dry air, the smell of pine trees and saltwater, of tidal pools and the sound of bikes on gravel, and of rowing with my sister and brother out into the deep, dark green water.

Morning Moon Galette 

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Galettes are the most forgiving of desserts. If you don’t believe me, ask Melissa Clark, the New York Times Food Section’s voice of reason. She explains here how once you understand the basics, every galette is your oyster. (Forgive the rather upsetting food metaphor).

For the Crust—I used my mom’s pie crust recipe. Remember how I told you it would never let you down? Click here for the recipe!

Preheat oven to 400°

For the Filling:

  • 3 Cups of any fruit that’s in season, you happen to be craving, or that you just happen to have on hand! I used blueberries (for Maine), strawberries (because it’s June) and a nectarine (because I had one that looked like it needed some love).
  • Heaping 1/2 Cup of sugar
  • Heaping Tablespoon of arrowroot powder
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Look at these little red beauties!

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Heaping 3 cups of fruit.

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Less glamorous, but mixed evenly with sugar and thickener.

Slice your fruit (if it needs it) and measure it so that you have 3 solid cups of fruit. Add sugar and arrowroot powder and toss gently until fruit is evenly coated and no powder is clumped at the bottom of the bowl. Set aside.

Assembling the Galette 

I haven’t had the best luck rolling out my crusts lately. My mom’s kitchen counters are made of wood, which makes it easy to sprinkle the slightest bit of flour and roll away to your heart’s content. My counters, however, were installed in the 1970’s when faux was in fashionThey are some kind of laminate material that doesn’t take well to flour. I read a tip that said to wet your counter, then spread wax paper out so that it adheres. Place your dough on top, cover with another sheet of wax paper, and roll. This all worked beautifully, until I flipped the dough over to find bits of shredded wax paper stuck to the bottom. I diligently picked them off, but still! I think a pastry blade is the key to success. It allows you to gently scrape and lift the dough from below to move it, and also to quickly scrape your rolling pin between rolls.

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Failed rolling tactics

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Better luck with good old flour…

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…and my trusty pastry blade.

Once you’ve rolled your dough out to about a 12″ round, trim the edges (or leave them alone, for a more rustic approach) and place dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Pour the fruit into a mound in the center of your crust, leaving at least 2 inches of crust exposed.

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Ready to fold!

Fold the crust over the fruit so that it overlaps and looks something like this:

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Brush crust with an egg wash (one egg mixed with a dash of water or cream). Sprinkle crust with sugar and bake for 25 minutes or until the fruit center is bubbling. Melissa INSISTS that your galette is only done when the filling is bubbling heartily. I ended up baking mine for around 35 minutes, but watched carefully starting at 25 to make sure the crust didn’t burn.

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Baked, cooled, and BEGGING for a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

If you want something easy, satisfying, and dependably delicious, bake one of these this summer. I promise, you won’t galette it!

Xo

Source: Google

The Morning Moon Cafe, in all its glory.

Why I Forgive Biscotti

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Biscotti always remind of driving with my dad. Or, more specifically, of sitting in the passenger’s seat of his giant International truck, high above the road, engulfed in the smell of worn leather, stone dust, and coffee, dozing off to the grumble of shifting gears. Or, to be even more precise, of doing homework in the coffee shop of our small New England town, waiting for my dad to pick me up. Before I could drive, before cell phones, I’d take the bus from school on autumn afternoons and wait for who knows how many hours for one parent or another to eventually pick me up. I had no interest whatsoever in coffee, but always loved the smell. I’d drink hot chocolate as I worked, hoping vaguely that I’d be able to spot the car out the darkening window. By the time I left I exuded the scent of roasting beans.

My dad drank 3 cups of coffee a day. No matter what we did, where we were going, or how late we were, he’d stop for coffee. Occasionally, when he was feeling wild, he’d get a biscotti. If you asked me (which no one ever did) biscotti were a dreary, utilitarian cookie—a tool used by coffee addicts to aid their bitter consumption. I never understood the appeal and saw them as a last, rock-hard resort in the hierarchy of baked goods. It didn’t help that they always seemed to be placed in jars next to the cash register, an afterthought to your beverage; a grudging and austere form of barely-sweet indulgence. I gravitated closer to the pastry cases—brightly lit and full of bursting eclairs covered in smooth, dark chocolate, perfectly miniature pies, and elaborate tarts piled high with glossy fruit.

But the other day read a recipe for biscotti, and was overcome with the inexplicable desire to bake them! I’ve eaten biscotti for dinner for the past two nights. Here’s what I’ve learned: Biscotti are, in fact, quite the opposite of my grim youthful perceptions! They are friendly and forgiving, easy to bake, and a canvas for endless combinations of flavors: spices, fruits and nuts, both savory and sweet.

I started with a recipe from Food52, which called for orange zest and pistachios (who could resist that sultry combination!) The recipe does not call for butter, and being a novice, I assumed that applied to all varieties. My dough was heavy and dense, but easily malleable. I made a mistake forming my loaves, however, unable to visualize how to achieve that classic thick sliver biscotti shape. As a result, my biscotti looked more like slices of baguette. I experimented with dipping them in melted chocolate, both white and dark. On the spectrum of Break-Your-Teeth to Dissolve-in-Your-Coffee, I would say these fell somewhere near Use-Caution-and-Position-Teeth-Tactfully. They weren’t bad, and I would definitely make them again, this time paying more attention to size and shape as a sliced:

Pistachio-studded loaves, cooling

Pistachio-studded loaves, cooling

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What to do while while cooling: peruse a few pages of Anna Karenina

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Experiments with chocolate dipping

The next recipe I tried is from the Splendid Table website. The Splendid Table, a radio show hosted by Lynn Rosetto Kasper, is second only to Roman gelato in its influence on my food education. Lynn Rosetto Kasper is a cross between your favorite college professor, your grandmother, and Terry Gross. She is my guru, and The Splendid Table makes even the most endless, excel-sheet filled workdays bearable. But I digress! What caught my eye about this recipe was that it calls for butter. I’m no expert, but I believe the scientific equation goes something like

butter > no butter

This recipe took my biscotti from what Harry Potter readers might recognize as Hagrid’s rock cakes to something delightfully hard but crumbly, breaking easily in your teeth but able to hold up to a healthy dunk in your coffee.

Any baker who can resist tasting the batter is morally reprehensible

Any baker who can resist tasting the batter is morally reprehensible

Divide the dough and form two logs

Divide the dough and form two logs

 

Ready for baking part 1

Ready for baking part 1

Beautifully cool logs, ready for slicing

Beautifully cool logs, ready for slicing

Ready to be dunked into a hot cup tea...or coffee, if you insist.

Ready to be dunked into a hot cup of black coffee

I’d recommend the second recipe (click here), because if you’ve never baked biscotti before, these will most likely throw you headlong into an obsessive quest for the perfect nutty crunch.

Notes: I added orange zest and pine nuts! I also baked mine twice as long as the recipe suggests during the second bake. It may be my oven, but for my second bake I did 15 minutes, then VERY gently flipped them over and baked them for another 15. Just watch yours carefully—you want them to be golden and completely firm (no doughy-ness in the center), but not brown!

Finally, some tips for the Biscotti-Obsessed:

  • I roasted my almonds and pine nuts before adding them to the dough, to add that warm, toasted fragrance. Be careful, though! I practiced some yoga poses in front of the oven and shook and rearranged the tray of nuts to get an even golden color.
  • Be patient with cooling your logs—they really will slice better when fully cooled.
  • If you decide to use zest, rub it into the sugar with your fingertips until the sugar turns uniformly yellow.
  • I think quality of chocolate and nuts makes a difference—my Stop & Shop almonds weren’t the most thrilling specimens…
  • I was confused by the way several recipes described the “log” shape. Basically, you want a rectangle that is 12” long, 2” wide, and about 1” tall.
  • I plan on treating myself to a KitchenAid stand mixer when I turn 25, but for now, a hand-held electric mixer worked fine!

Happy baking!

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Pie Lessons

I didn’t know how good I had it growing up. I waltzed around, completely oblivious, waiting expectantly for pies to appear at the ready. Rhubarb. Peach. Apple. Blueberry. Pecan. Pumpkin. They’d emerge and sit tortuously on the stovetop to cool.

We weren’t allowed anywhere near picking range pre-dinner. But if, by some miracle, any pie remained the next day, picking was another story. It became an art. We’d pull stools up to the counter, spoons in hand, and approach the pie with practical reverence. We strategized: where to begin? A flaky tear of the golden brown crust? A deep carving  of the filling? Or, in the case of rhubarb, a spoonful from the miraculous and perfectly pink pool of sugary liquid at the bottom of the dish. We’d plot our attack carefully, comparing tactics, until not a crumb remained.

My mom’s pies are show stoppers. You would think we’d get used to them over the years, but at every family dinner, there we are: stuffed, incredulous, and singing her praises.

Whenever people ask the secret of my mom’s crust, she always exclaims “It’s in the flick of the wrist!” Her demonstrations are always accompanied by a “ch ch ch!” sound affect I never quite understood.

My mom learned to make pie crust from her friend Michele Miller (who happens to be the creator of Bola Granola, the absolute best and most addictive granola there is). Michele’s mother is French, so bien sur, she is a master of all things butter. The proportions are Julia Child’s, but the secret is Michelle’s technique.

After all these years it felt like a rite of passage to learn. I called my mom and requested a formal lesson, as soon as her rhubarb, which grows wild out beyond the garden, was tall enough to cut. We opened the windows, poured some Rosé, and put on Ella in Rome.

This much is true—master this dough and you’re pretty much set for life.

Ingredients: for the Dough 

  • 1 3/4 C Flour
  • 10 T cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 T Margarine
  • Generous Pinch (more like 1 t) salt
  • 1/2 C ice water

 Ingredients: for the Filling

  • Between 6 and 8 C rhubarb, tips and roots removed, chopped into 1 or 2 inch pieces.
  • 2 T Arrowroot Powder
  • 1 Heaping C brown sugar

Make Filling:

Toss rhubarb, arrowroot powder and brown sugar in a large bowl so that all the fruit is evenly coated. That’s it! Put it aside while you make the dough

Make the Dough:

Preheat Oven to 425°

Cut butter into small cubes.

Mix Flour and Salt in a medium bowl.

Add cubes of butter and margarine and toss in flour mixture until butter butter and margarine are coated.

Pour the contents of the bowl out onto a large work space. Using a pastry blade, chop the butter/margarine until it resembles pea-sized crumbs. Don’t overdo it. Scrape into a pile.

Here’s the “ch ch ch, flick of the wrist” technique:

Using a rolling pin, gently flick and scrape the mixture so that you stretch the butter. Flick some of the pile under your pin, then roll down and out away from you. Repeat until the whole pile has moved to the front of your rolling pin and butter crumbs have turned into thin flakes.

Gently scrape the pile back into the bowl.

Add ice water a few splashes at a time, just until dough comes together (and starts to resist.) Depending on the humidity in the air, you may not need all 1/2 cup’s worth!

Once dough starts to come together, form into a round disc. Don’t overwork it, and don’t worry if it doesn’t hold together perfectly! You can always scrape up crumbs and hide them sneakily in a fold. Wrap in wax paper and chill for a minimum of 30 min.

Remove dough from fridge and cut in half. For a lattice top pie, make halves slightly uneven (you’ll use the larger half for the lattice strips).

Flour your work surface and roll out dough, alternating directions, until it is thin but not too thin. Place gently into pie plate and pat down into corners.

Pour rhubarb filling into dough. Roll out your second half of dough and, using a pastry cutter (or a paring knife), cut into inch-wide strips. The weaving pattern is simple once you wrap your head around it. Start with 2 strips in an L shape, and weave so that the pattern is over under, over under. Break off the excess dough a little past where it meets the side of the dish, and save for later. (You can always cheat and pinch two smaller strips together when you’re running low)

Pinch your lattice ends together with the dough shell so that you have a lovely scalloped border. I wasn’t very good at this, but my thumb, thumb and index finger pinching technique yielded acceptable results:

Sprinkle lightly with sugar and pop it in the oven! Bake for 25 minutes at 425° so that the top is slightly golden. Lower temperature to 350° and bake for another 25 minutes, or until top is golden brown and the rhubarb peeking through your lattice is bubbling.

Cubing the butter

Cubing the butter

Chopping the butter, flour and margarine mixture

Chopping the butter, flour and margarine mixture

Ready to become dough!

Ready to become dough!

Ready for 30 min. in the fridge

Ready for 30 min. in the fridge

Rolled-out dough

Rolled-out dough

Starting to look a lot like a pie!

Starting to look a lot like a pie!

Far from perfect lattice strips

Far from perfect lattice strips

Learning to weave

Learning to weave

Hopefully you can't see my ghastly weaving error.

Hopefully you can’t see my ghastly weaving error…

Enjoy!

Enjoy!