Dark Chocolate Dipped Rosemary Shortbread with Sea Salt

I love everything about the holidays (minus religion, eradication of native americans, children sitting on the laps of old men, and shopping malls). I love giving gifts and I love eating turkey and I love staying up on New Year’s Eve. But what I love most of all (aside from family and being incredibly thankful) is the opportunity to bake as many cookies as possible in the name of goodwill unto all.

Slice-and-bake cookies are the best of all, because in addition to being adorably retro, if you plan carefully, you’ll have enough cookie dough stashed in the freezer to keep the kitchen continuously perfumed from now till Christmas eve. This, ladies and gents, is what I call true holiday spirit.

Dark Chocolate Dipped Rosemary Shortbread with Sea Salt
Makes about 2 dozen small (1”, bite-size) shortbread cookies

Slice and bake cookies

Shortbread cookies are cookies in their purest and most basic form: butter, sugar, flour, salt. As such, they are heavenly, the platonic ideal of cookies. In this version, I add a little rosemary for a sophisticated, savory layer of depth and dip them in dark chocolate for elegant gift giving. You can omit the extra step and the herbs for a wonderful basic shortbread, or add chocolate chips, walnuts, or even funfetti sprinkles. Enjoy!

HOW TO MAKE:

In a medium bowl, cream together:

  • 1 stick (½ cup) sweet cream butter, softened
  • ¼ tsp salt (if butter is not salted)
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

Stir in:

  • 1 cup AP flour (King Arthur)
  • 1 tsp crushed rosemary

Just to combine.

Cut two sheets of plastic wrap, and divide dough in half. Shape each dough ball into a squared-off log of 1” diameter. Seal ends, and stick it in the freezer until firm or up to a month (!!).

When you’re ready to bake:

  • Preheat oven to 350F and line baking sheets with parchment.
  • Slice logs into ½ inch rounds and space on sheet 1 inch apart
  • Bake 10-12 minutes, until very lightly browned around edges only.
  • Cool on the sheet for 5 min, and transfer to a wire rack for further cooling.

For chocolate coating:

  • Melt 1 cup dark chocolate chips over a double boiler, and dip cookies (cooled) on the diagonal.
  • Sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
  • Let cool in the fridge (or vestibule) until chocolate is firm.

Slice and bake cookies

Homemade Whiskey Gingers

Whiskey gingers are one of my all-time favorite drinks, right behind a classic Manhattan. It says “I’m feeling classy, but also a little bubbly, too”. Somewhere between “let me smoke this cigar alone in the study” and swing dancing in a polka-dot dress. At least that’s how I picture it in my head.

Some people call this Jack-and-Ginger but I’m not a fan of Jack Daniels, it has too much of a distinct sickly-sweet taste for the lightness of ginger. I’m a huge fan of Knob Creek Bourbon but just about anything you like to drink is good. Bourbon lends itself perfectly to sweet things but I bet this would be nice with Rye as well. I used Maker’s Mark here.

Homemade whiskey gingers

Homemade Whiskey Gingers

adapted from a Beautiful Mess

Makes: enough for a good time

The key to this recipe lies in the homemade ginger syrup. I can’t believe I never made simple syrups before; the freshness is 100x better than Ginger Ale or Ginger Beer you get elsewhere and dirt cheap too. The leftover’s great mixed with club soda for the best ginger ale you ever had in your life.

  • 1 liter of club soda

  • ice cubes (we don’t want no stinkin’ crushed ice! bigger cubes are better)

  • good drinking bourbon (I don’t know how much you limit yourself to so I’ll leave this open ended.)

  • 1 cup water

  • 2 cups sugar (and extra if you wanna make candied ginger)

  • 1 really big gingerroot

For the ginger syrup:

  • Peel the ginger root and slice half of it super thinly, and grate the rest. Grating the ginger makes all the great (ha ha) flavor come out but also makes the syrup (and thus your drink) a bit murky-looking, which is fine by me. If this bothers you, either strain it, or slice all the ginger and cook it for longer.

  • In a pot mix sugar, water. Over medium heat stir until sugar dissolves. Add ginger and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.

  • Cool slightly; strain syrup, reserving ginger slices and store in fridge for up to a month (it won’t last that long).

  • Coat the remaining ginger slices in sugar and lay out to dry. Now you have candied ginger! Yey!

Time to make the drinks:

  • I confess I never measure things when I make drinks. I just eyeball it. So it went something like this:

    • Pour 1 shot of Maker’s into your glass

    • Mix with 2 shots syrup

    • Put big ice cubes in it

    • Pour enough club soda to fill the glass. I always use Old Fashioned glasses because that’s all I drink. You should probably use a Highball glass.

  • The end!

  • Seriously, just make it something like 1:2:4 Whiskey: syrup: soda and you should be good.

  • Or ask your friends who bartend for their advice, but you can’t go wrong.

 

Mexican Chocolate Cinnamon Swirly Buns

Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl biscuits
Everyone will like you if you come bearing hot (cinnamon) buns.

There are tiny kitchen challenges, and then there are really tiny kitchen challenges.

Case in point: my gentleman caller’s lovely but miniscule shoebox in Soho. We call it the space cabin, but there’s probably more counter space in space.

Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl biscuits
Only in New York.

There was also the additional challenge of being in the apartment of someone who until last week survived solely on takeout from Seamless. No icing sugar, no cake pan, no rolling pin, and definitely no yeast, only some leftover ingredients from last visit’s pancake production.

Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl biscuits
Exhibit A: the Manhattanite’s rolling pin

One thing we did have was this amazing Mexican chocolate that I am now completely addicted to: it’s like crunchy sugar granules mixed in with dark chocolate and cinnamon– heaven. Ironically, the Mexican chocolate also did not come from the resident Mexican. (Sometimes my life doesn’t make much sense but it’s all tasty.)

Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl biscuits

But I had a craving for the perfect Sunday morning: cinnamon buns, coffee; and no one could stop me. So I made do.

Mexican Chocolate Cinnamon Swirly Buns
Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl biscuits

Makes 12 swirly buns

This recipe was an attempt at quick no-yeast cinnamon rolls but I didn’t have a cake pan, so I made them in a muffin tin. They didn’t turn out like soft fluffy cinnabuns at all– but rather deliciously sugary biscuits with a crunchy top and moist center. It’s likely my oven was all whack and thus the crunchy tops but I promise they’ll be tasty no matter how accurate your temperature is. Next time i’ll probably go get more supplies to attempt the real deal but these biscuits were perfect with a cup of café au lait and friendship.

Dough

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup milk

Filling

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 bars Mexican chocolate (usually they have this to make hot chocolate with), roughly chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 400F and lightly grease a muffin tin.
  2. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Cut in softened butter, stir in milk; knead lightly to form a soft dough.
  4. Meanwhile, mix butter, sugar and cinnamon for filling.
  5. Drop a teaspoon of filling mix at the bottom of each muffin cup (I might skip this step next time because it sort of sticks and burns).
  6. Roll out dough on a lightly floured into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.
  7. Spread the remaining filling on the rolled out dough. Sprinkle the chocolate.
  8. Roll up the rectangle, with a sharp knife slice into 12 rolls. Place each swirly-side up in a muffin cup.
  9. Bake for 20-25 min at 400°F, or till lightly browned on top.
  10. Serve warm with coffee and love. :)

Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl biscuits
The best part of cinnamon buns: Filling!

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cream Scones

Vegan cream scones

I can’t believe I never thought about doing this– simply substitute the heavy cream in a traditional cream scone recipe with coconut cream, and voila! Vegan cream scone, 100% as fluffy and light as the original.

In fact, I think it’s even tastier– the coconut milk lends a hint of subtle sweetness and makes it creamy without being cloying. It doesn’t taste coconutt-y outright, and you wouldn’t know it’s vegan unless you asked.

To make the whole process simpler, I made them as drop scones and it was perfect. Less than 30 minutes from craving to reward, great for hungry Sunday mornings, when you’ve been dreaming of donuts and that oatmeal just looks cruel.

Vegan cream scones

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cream Scones
Makes 6 big scones
Adapted from Art of Dessert

  • 2 cups AP flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 ¼ cup canned coconut milk
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. In a mixing boil, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
3. Pour in coconut milk; gently mix to form a dough; stir in chocolate chips.
4. Drop large scoops (¼ cupfuls) onto a greased baking sheet 2 inches apart.
5. Bake 15-20 min, or until golden brown. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container after it’s completely cooled. Reheat in toaster oven.

A number of things

A number of things have occurred since we last spoke.
I’ve moved from the Greatest City in the World

Untitled
to one that’s not half bad.

Charles
I’m a student again,
and also a research assistant at a pretty exciting place.

Most notably, my new home comes with the dreamiest kitchen you’ve ever met:
Good morning from my new kitchen  #ibelieveinathingcalledlove
which means, I’ll be cooking a lot…
especially since it’s my favorite way of dealing with stress.

Ciao!

Salted Caramel Brownies

Salted caramel brownies

Hello, old friend– long time, no see! I promise I’ll get back to writing to you more soon. But for now, a recipe– both salty & sweet, just like my feelings about leaving my Alma Mater.

Salted Caramel Brownies
Makes 1 8″ pan, cut into 16 squares (they’re very rich!)

Fudge brownies are pretty much perfect as is but the addition of salted caramel makes them heavenly. My suitemates have been clamoring for the recipe for a week now, so I caved and am back to blogging. These are especially good chilled– really like candy, almost.

Mark Bittman is one of my favorite chefs and his formula for brownies is my go-to-recipe: so simple it’s child-proof, fudgy and sweet with crackly tops. I also love that they don’t use cocoa powder, which I never seem to have lying around.

Nota bene: best friend’s mother, who is an amazing cook, made this huge bowl of homemade dulce de leche– pretty much the most addictive substance on earth. If you don’t have such luck in friends, and are short on time, you can buy it premade– or make it yourself.

Ingredients:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, plus a little more for greasing the pan
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

about 1 cup dulce de leche, or however much 1 12-oz can of sweetened condensed milk makes

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. These are sticky, so either line the pan with aluminium foil and grease it or nonstick parchment paper (or else serving will be a nightmare!).

2. Combine the stick of butter and the chocolate in a small saucepan over very low heat, stirring occasionally. (Or microwave them in a large microwave-safe bowl on medium for 10-second intervals, stirring after each.) When the chocolate is just about melted, remove the saucepan from the heat (or bowl from the microwave) and continue to stir until the mixture is smooth.

3. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl (or use the bowl you put in the microwave) and stir in the sugar. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Gently stir in the flour, salt, and the vanilla if you’re using it.

4.Spread half the batter into the prepared pan. Carefully pour caramel over the top and gently spread with a spatula. Sprinkle with sea salt, then gently pour the rest of the batter over the top. Sprinkle again with a bit of sea salt over the top.

5. Bake 35-40 min, or until center is set (these take a lot longer than regular brownies but don’t let them burn!).

This is the hard part– cool for a good long time so that they’re firm enough to cut. When brownies are cool, lift them out of the pan by the foil or parchment, place the whole thing on a cutting board, and cut into squares with a serrated knife, dipping in between cuts in hot water (they’re super sticky, no joke!).

Enjoy :)

Persimmon Goat Cheese Salad

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the Persimmon Tree

A few years ago, when I was a grumpy senior in High School, the beloved Magnolia tree in our backyard, source of pink blossoms, rambling branches to climb, and many childhood memories passed away. In its place, my parents went to an Asian nursery and brought back a Persimmon tree.

The tree was thin, crooked, and distinctly budget. Maybe there was some haggling involved. I didn’t like it. I wanted a cherry tree, with fluffy pink blossoms. I wanted an apple tree, something that smacked of wholesomeness and Americana. Instead, my parents got something “Oriental”, that I argued had no retail value when the time came to sell our little house and yard (a low blow, since both my parents and I are firmly attached to the idea of growing old in the same place).

The first year in our yard, the squirrels ate nearly all the blossoms. They bit off many thin twigs and branches, leaving a massacre on the grass. What was left turned into small hard fruits, and the wrist-thin trunk sloped to one side.

I went to school. I didn’t call very much, and I forgot about our tree and our backyard.

But my parents took care of the tree and it grew into a beautiful little thing. Now it bears dozens and dozens of fruit– more than a couple of empty-nesters can eat. The pretty orange persimmons hang like Christmas globes on the small but staunch tree.

By nature there are two types of persimmons– astringent types, which unless utterly ripe to the point of bursting, leave a nasty “furry” feeling on the tongue, and non-astringent types, which can be eaten at any stage of ripeness, always lovely and mild. Our little tree is non-astringent. The fruits are always sweet.

Every Thanksgiving now my parents bring a bucketful to my aunt and uncle’s house, and I take the leftovers back to school. When my mom was a child, persimmons were big and squishy and plentiful and overlooked as a poor man’s fruit. Everyone wanted red American apples and bananas that were yellow. The grocer would say, these bananas have been on a plane– now, have you been on a plane? because a little chinese girl isn’t much more than a banana. Now, I savor them, a day at a time, to make the harvest last.

Each one reminds me of my parent’s love and my roots– that I am not as american as apple pie, but that the fruit is sweeter still.

Persimmon Goat Cheese Salad
Persimmon goat cheese salad

Goat cheese is (was?) trendy, but in my opinion its value is very hit-or-miss. Because of its tanginess, it goes best with sweet, fruity flavors. Here, the combination of sweet persimmon, tangy creamy cheese, and acidic balsamic is perfect. I like it even better than that restaurant favorite combo, beets-and-goat-cheese.

Serves 1

  • 2 c mixed spring greens
  • 1 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 2 T toasted sunflower seeds
  • 1 fuyu persimmon, *peeled*, sectioned, slightly soft
  • 2 T balsamic vinaigrette (or less, to taste.)

Put greens in a salad bowl, and top with segmented persimmon. Crumble on the goat cheese and sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Drizzle just enough vinaigrette to cover the top leaves– you want it to be very lightly moistened, and the strong acidity will overpower the delicate fruitiness.

Enjoy, with thanks.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Donut Muffins

Pumpkin Cinnamon Donut Muffins

Forget Pumpkin Spiced this-and-that: when fall rolls around, there’s exactly one treat that I’m craving: and that’s a fresh Cider Donut at the Greenmarket on a crisp Sunday morning. There’s always something apple-cheeked and wholesome about greenmarket cider donuts, despite the fact that they’re deep fried: after all how could I say no to this little bite of autumn, and supporting local farms?

But what’s a girl to do on the four other days of the week when the market’s not there?

Make her own fall-flavored donuts: no frying necessary. Move over, Apple Cider Donuts: make way for Pumpkin Cinnamon Donut Muffins!

Pumpkin Cinnamon Donut Muffins
Recipe Adapted from Kirbie’s Cravings, a lovely food blog
Makes 1 dozen

These treats really capture the taste and texture of Cider Donuts, without the hassle of deep-frying, and with a pumpkin twist. The process is easy and fun: perfect for a Fall Break baking project, Columbia students!

Muffins:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup fat free milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree

Coating:

  • 2 tbs butter, melted
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and generously grease a muffin pan with butter.
  2. In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients except for sugar.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix all remaining muffin ingredients.
  4. Slowly stir in wet ingredients to flour mixture.
  5. Bake for approx 20 min, or until muffins are lightly browned and firm.
  6. Meanwhile, mix together sugar and cinnamon for topping.
  7. When muffins are cool enough to handle, pop them out of the tin, and for each “donut”, dip the top in melted butter, and roll around in cinnamon sugar. Check out the video for a demo!
  8. Enjoy warm or room temperature.

Sunny Harvest Soup

Butternut bean and orzo stew

After a long cold day, I wanted to make a soup that reminded me of Thanksgiving and comfort– minus all the hours of preparation and food coma from overly rich dishes. How could I capture the essence of the holidays using what little frugal and vegetarian ingredients I had?

Food is steeped in tradition and family, but it is also a science, and psychological one: satisfying our cravings often have to more with our attachment to certain special flavors and textures rather than the entire dish.

Holiday dinners always seem to be centered around some sort of roasted bird– be it turkey or chicken, and surrounded by winter vegetables (roots and squashes). But it’s not really about the fowl: after all, we might eat sliced turkey in our subs and begrudgingly cold chicken for supper.

More important are the spices: things like sage, thyme, and dill, and the textures: warm, soft, tender.

These are the senses I tried to mimic. Using the three Sisters we learned about in kindergarten (sweet corn, hearty beans, and squash cooked till it melts in your mouth), plenty of thyme and dill (common bird roasting spices), and tiny sweet onions, plus an umami kick from soy sauce, I think it nails comfort on the head.

Sunny Harvest Stew
Feeds 4 normal eaters or 2 Sophies
Cook time: about an hour

Ingredients:

  • ¼ butternut squash
  • ½ can sweet corn (I love Trader Joe’s!)
  • ½ can white beans
  • 1 cup frozen (or fresh) pearl onions (from Trader Joe’s as well)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • ½ tsp dill
  • 2 splashes soy sauce
  • salt, pepper
  • T olive oil
  • ½ c orzo
  1. Put the onions in a large pot with a splash of water some soy sauce. Cook over medium heat till soft.
  2. Meanwhile, chop the squash into 1-inch chunks. Add this to the pot, along with all remaining ingredients except for orzo.
  3. Stew, covered, for about 30-40 min, or until everything’s nice and soft, and then stir in orzo.
  4. Cook for 8-10 minutes more, until orzo is al dente and some of the stock is absorbed.
  5. Serve with freshly ground pepper.

Remembering a Feast at Summer’s End

olives
Originally published on my writing blog.

Nowadays it is conventional to believe that emotional eating is unhealthy, but the truth is that emotions are so strongly mixed into every ingredient of a meal that the two are inseparable.

Why is it that our memories of eating are often so much stronger, more vivid than our memories of anything else? First-grade strawberry birthday popsicles. Peanut-butter-and-jelly, half thrown away. Turkey for Thanksgiving, and then cold turkey the whole week after. I don’t remember, really, what dress I wore to the birthday; I don’t remember what I did after lunch in the cafeteria, and I can’t recall that year whether or not Grandma was at our house.

It’s not simply that perhaps I have an irregular preoccupation with food; there are for certain a great deal of people with less interest than I in cooking and dining, but then again also a great deal with more. Eating combines the physical with the social, with which the emotional is undeniably inextricable. Food memories are persistent because they involve strong stimulation of all five physical senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching) all centered around a social function or a cultural dictation; eating a meal is both an event and an action and an indication. The food we eat (along with the food that we do not permit ourselves to consume) form little landmarks in our lives.

On a cloudy, chilly, groggy Friday like this, I pull out the warm memory of a feast at summer’s end. It nourishes my soul. It grounds my mind. It pulls me from the dark, floating, philosophical clouds above, to the concrete, Epicurean joys of physical Earth.

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