Birthdays Rain or Shine

Remember back when I said that the beautiful weather we were having was bound to be temporary? Well it was true. The weather around Seattle has pretty much reverted back to fall weather, except that it’s daytime for about twice as long. I’ve been keeping myself busy though–mostly going to birthday parties.

About this time 2 years ago, I was spending a bit of time with tiny babies. We had several friends who all had babies within about 2 weeks of each other, and it was very exciting because we had just announced that we ourselves were going to be having a baby in October (Lilli’s originally expected birth-month).

And at this same time just last year, I was preparing to launch this baby–the blog you are reading now. (Big plans for that birthday–not all of them cake related!)

And the list goes on with a whole bunch of other May birthdays in our family: the births of both my mom (57 yrs ago) and my dad (56 years ago), Joe’s mom (60 years ago), the twins’ mom (32 years ago) and also the twins themselves (9 years ago).

With so many birthdays this month, we have been busy indeed. Busy making cards and birthday treats. Busy picking out the perfect children’s books as gifts for our youngest friends, busy painting wrapping paper especially for them. There has been brunch parties and dinner parties, kid parties and grown up parties. Who doesn’t love a month full of parties?

Of all the treats I made this month, probably my favorite was a set of cookies for one of those young friends. It was a glorious sunny day when we were planning to spend the afternoon celebrating the birth of Niko, and I wanted to make a special treat for him. I had some gingerbread cookie dough saved in the freezer from when Lilli was on an “I’m the gingerbread man” kick the week before, so I took out the last of it and cut out one cookie for each of the letters in his name. I baked them just right, and then I let them cool.

I frosted them with a thick, lemony, and not too sweet icing and dipped each one in a rainbow of sprinkles. The sprinkles are the key. Bright and cheerful and fun, they make just about any birthday treat that much better.

The best part about these cookies is you don’t even really need a recipe. Just use any dough that would be rolled out and cut, and decorate with a thick frosting that dries hard–I used about 1 cup of powdered sugar turned into a thick paste with the juice of about 1 lemon. Dip the cookie frosting side down into a dish full of whatever sort of sprinkle you want and let it harden before you pack them up.

It’s easy enough that you can do it even if you have 100 birthday parties to go to all at once and they made exactly the statement that I wanted them to make: that I took my time and made something special just for the birthday boy.

Three Corners

I have a huge stash of things in jars.

Sometimes I go to pull one thing out of the stash and I find something else entirely and I’m all like “Yeah! This is gonna be sooo good.”

I did that yesterday when I was looking for some sort of jam to put into the cookies the kids and I were making. I found a jar of curry pickled green tomatoes that I had completely forgotten about. I still have an open jar of a different kind of tomato pickle in the fridge so I restrained myself and didn’t pull the new jar out of the bench.

I’ll just have to find an excuse to use up the other pickles so I can eat the new ones.

But in the meantime I’m also restraining myself from eating all those cookies we made.

It’s Purim this week–a Jewish holiday marking the saving of the Jewish people of the city of Shushan by their secretly Jewish queen, Esther. It’s traditional to give gifts of food to neighbors and loved ones. Actually, pretty much anybody. This is a tradition I have no trouble getting behind, because I am really good at making huge batches of things for the sole purpose of giving them away. Usually one of the things that is included in the goodie bag is a few hamentashen.

Yesterday I was home with all three little Goldbergs while Joe did a 70 mile ride with his bike team. We went to the park and did some other stuff, but the best part of the day was the cookies. We made the dough in the morning and once Lilli was down for the count after lunch, Isaac and I (Aaron was out with a friend) rolled out the dough and got them into the oven.

We used kumquat marmalade and crab apple jelly to fill them. They’re not exactly traditional Jewish fillings, but whatever. I’m not exactly a traditional Jew.

The last couple of years I have tried different recipes for hamentashen and not been happy with any of them. I’m not really sure why it took me so long to figure it out. It’s basically a sugar cookie dough, sometimes parve (no dairy or meat ingredients) or sometimes not, and then you fold it up into little three cornered treasure boxes of fruit or poppyseed filling. They’re pretty basic as far as technical skill goes.

This year I think I finally got them right. The trick is to use a solid fat instead of oil, which is what some recipes call for. The oil makes them parve, but you can just as easily use vegetable shortening, or I guess margarine, if you need them to not have any dairy. A recipe I got from a friend had a substitution to make them vegan even.

If you’re looking for a basic recipe this is the one. I based it on a recipe I got out of a cookbook that I think came from my mother-in-law, a cookbook called “Daf Yummy.” I tweaked some parts of it to meet in the middle with the recipe my friend swears by, and ended up with a dough I can finally be proud to call “my hamentashen recipe.” You could add orange zest in addition to the orange juice, you can switch up half of the flour for whole wheat, you can add a tsp of cinnamon or another spice to the dough. You could even make them chocolate by substituting about 1/4 cup of the flour for cocoa powder.

Now, when you’re eating all those cookies, you might need something to wash them down with.

Another Purim tradition, one that is actually commanded by the Talmud according to some Rabbis, is to drink. Heavily. There’s a lot of drinking in the story–it pretty much saved the day. So, you are supposed to drink until you are perfumed with wine and can’t tell the Hamens (bad guys) from the Mordechais (good guys). To help you along I worked out a recipe for a cocktail that is the perfect embodiment of the heroine in this Purim story: Queen Esther.

She’s strong and sweet. She’s bold, but knows exactly when to play her cards. She’s everything a heroine needs to be–just like this cocktail. It’s smooth and sweet and comes on slowly, building up to end each sip with a little fire.

There’s a long tradition of sweetened citrus drinks in the Middle East, dating back centuries, to the time of Esther and her kin. The grapefruit is a new twist on that idea, playing against the herbal notes of the thyme perfectly. I like to think that Her Highness would have approved of this refreshing mix, and would have gladly served it to her King. Maybe she wouldn’t have used good bourbon for old Hamen though.

Hamentashen
makes about 36 cookies

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet your filling will be
2 cups all purpose flour
1 large egg, broken up with a fork
2 Tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice (or lemon)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cup all purpose flour

Filling of choice such as jam, ganache, or a more traditional filling such as prune or poppy seed

In a food processor, blend the sugar and butter until well combined. Add the egg, orange juice, vanilla extract, baking soda, and salt. Pulse just until everything looks mixed in. Add in the flour and blend until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap in plastic or parchment paper and refrigerate for several hours.

When you are ready to bake your cookies, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line 2 (or 3 if you have them) cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Working with 1/2 batch at a time, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8″ thick. Cut out circles about 2 1/2″ in diameter, using a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass dipped in flour. You can re-roll the dough, but you might need to chill it a bit longer depending on how cold it was to begin with.

Line the circles up on the trays and place about 1 Tbsp of filling in each cookie. I like to use a small ice cream style scoop for this job, it makes it slightly less messy. Fold up the edges of the cookies on three sides, making a nice little triangle around the filling. Be sure to let some of the filling show in the center. If the corners won’t stick together on their own, use a wet finger to trace a circle around each piece of dough, then fold them up.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until the corners are a nice golden brown. Cool completely on wire racks before eating these cookies, or you run the risk of burning your mouth on the filling. Just take my word on this.

The Queen Esther
makes 1 cocktail

2 oz good bourbon
1/6 Ruby grapefruit
1 large sprig thyme
1 Tbsp simple syrup
3-4 dashes grapefruit bitters, I like Fee Brothers

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the grapefruit and the thyme, squeezing as much juice out of the grapefruit as you can. Add the bourbon, syrup, and bitters. Put in a handful of ice, put on the top, and shake it up. Pour over fresh ice and garnish with grapefruit and more thyme, if desired.

Sweet Mourning

This weekend I got some time to myself. Just me and a friend and a few sad bee carcases.

I know, it’s a little morbid. But you have to be realistic when you keep bees. You will inevitably kill a few by accident in the process, and sometimes, you lose a whole hive.

One of the hives I keep with my friend Meghan didn’t survive the winter. Our theory is that they got chilled when the roof of their hive body sprung a leak of sorts and the walls of the wooden boxes they called home became damp and mildewy. Meghan also said she suspects the queen was never very strong to begin with, and that she thinks she died back in November. It’s taken till recently for the last of the colony to die off in the cold, lonely winter.

It made us both a little sad, but it also made us a little bit happy because there was still some honey in those combs!

The harvest took us longer than we expected due to problems with mold on some of the combs, so mid-harvest I had to head home to eat lunch with my favorite people. As a result I didn’t get to see how much honey there was in the end. I did however get to sneak away with a little jar of sweet goodness. We all sampled it with our lunch and it was very good indeed.

I said a little thank you to the bees who gave their lives to provide us with something so amazing, and I said the same little thank you yesterday morning when I poured a tiny drizzle over the pears I sauteed to go with our breakfast–a bread pudding made of leftover wacked out sourdough.

Friday night I took a loaf of sourdough out of the freezer for our Shabbat bread. A pretty miserable loaf of sourdough at that. When I originally baked it on Monday, I baked it in a hurry, which is ironic considering it took three days to actually make the bread itself. In my haste to get it in the oven on time for dinner guests after arriving home late to start our meal, I forgot to slash the tops. It was like adding insult to injury–the bread was slightly underproofed. It baked up flavorful but on the dense side, and the crust never really browned, just toughening up as it went along. It was so weird.

It did make killer bread pudding though. I mixed it up Saturday night and popped it in the oven first thing Sunday morning: I cut off most of the offending crust (the top part was OK, and I like the chewiness of a little bit left in a bread pudding) and cut it into rough cubes, poured on some custard and let it soak overnight. It’s the closest you can get to a decadent breakfast that makes itself. I will spare you the pictures. It wasn’t pretty in the least.

This isn’t a traditional bread pudding. It’s eggier to satisfy a morning hunger, and it’s less sweet than usual to make room for the sweetness of the pears I set alongside. I hope you’ll give it a try next time you have an ugly loaf of bread sitting around, offending your sensibilities.

It was the perfect thing to eat before a trip to the Sunday Farmer’s Market. A trip that was made (mostly) in the sun.

And yes, we still ate a huge muffin as a snack.

Cardamom Breakfast Bread Pudding with Sauteed Pears
makes one dish about 9″x 13″ or a comparably sized pan, serves 6-8

For the Bread Pudding:
1 loaf sourdough bread, crust removed (or mostly removed)
6 eggs
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cream or half & half (you can use all milk if you like, it will be less rich)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp ground cardamom
1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt
butter to grease the pan
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit cut into small pieces, optional

For the Pears:
6 small–or 4 large–firm pears, such as Bosc
1/2 cup honey, more or less to taste
2 Tbsp butter

Make a day in advance for the most satisfying results. Bake in an oven preheated to 375ºF.

Cut the bread into thick slices and then into cubes about 1″ in size. Set aside.

Mix the eggs, milk, cream, sugar, spices and salt in a large bowl. Add the bread and, using a large spoon or your hands, turn to coat all the bread evenly with the milk mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, turn on the oven (375ºf) and grease your pan. Pour in the bread mixture, stirring well one more time before doing so. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until completely set. It might take longer if you bake it in a deeper pan.

While the pudding bakes, core the pears (peel if you like) and cut into eights. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add the butter to the pan. Once the butter is melted, add in the pears and let brown for a few minutes before adding the honey. Stir to coat and then turn down the heat and continue to cook until the pears soften but before they turn to mush. Turn off the heat if your pudding still needs a while to bake. Cover, and reheat briefly over medium heat if need be before serving.

Once the pudding is set, take it out of the oven and let sit for about 5 minutes before serving to allow the custard to set a touch more and to bring down to an edible temperature. Serve everything warm.

Brown Sugar Was Made For Me

Last week I ran out of sugar. And by “ran out” I mean the white stuff that is good for baking and putting in coffee.

I put brown sugar in my coffee instead of going to the grocery store. No biggie.

I happened to have just received a very odd cake pan as an impromptu gift from my mother. She’s good at giving gifts that are seemingly practical and yet I never seem to actually use them. What can I say? She’s a mom. (Love you, Mom!)

And I had all those freaking oranges and things.

I decided I wanted to make a pound cake. When I was a kid, someone told me that pound cake was made using a pound of butter and a pound of sugar and something else. I can’t really remember. And I don’t even think that was true. Ever. Pound cake does not use an entire pound of anything, really. But it does weigh a lot, so I guess that’s why I believed that crazy lie.

What pound cake does use though is white sugar, usually.

But, I’m good at switching things up. I started with a recipe from Alton Brown. He let me down a couple of weeks ago, so I was gave him a chance to redeem himself. I took a recipe from his book I’m Just Here For More Food, which I use a lot when I need a basic recipe to use as a jumping off point for something more adventurous.

Like when I decided to bake a cake in this weird old ceramic pan, which made the cake bake FOREVER.

Cake batter spread into the pan, ready to go in the oven.

Anyway, redeem himself he did even though I took his recipe and pretty much made it an all new thing. I added blood orange zest and juice and used only that brown sugar.

To top it off, I lined the top of the pan with some candied blood orange slices.

The brown sugar and the blood orange are pretty much a match made in heaven.

Or at least, for me.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Blood Oranges

1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 blood oranges
3 cups all purpose flour (I used 1 cup ea: whole wheat, AP and oat. It was goood.)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 scant cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Grease a regular sized tube style pan or 2 small loaf pans. Line the bottom of the pan(s) with candied orange slices (recipe following), making sure some of the slices go up the sides of the pan at least a little bit.

Zest all three of the oranges. Juice 2 of them and add the juice to the buttermilk. Make supremes of the last orange. Chop up the supremes pretty small and set aside.

Cream the butter, the sugar and the orange zest until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape the bowl as necessary. While the butter creams whisk together the flour(s), baking soda, and salt

Alternate the dry ingredients with the buttermilk/juice mixture. After the last addition of buttermilk let it mix just barely, then take off the mixer and fold in the chopped up orange segments, mixing just until everything is an even consistency. Pour into the pan and bake for about an hour, or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then tip out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Once it’s cool use a pastry brush to paint the outside with the syrup you reserved from candying the oranges.

Definitely serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

For the Candied Orange Slices

Heat equal parts water and granulated sugar in a wide, shallow sauce pan. Bring to a boil. You will need about 2 cups of syrup total to candy an orange.

Slice an orange very very thinly. The absolute best way to do this is on a mandoline. If you don’t own one, I suggest you go buy one. Seriously. It will make your life so much easier. Failing that, use a very sharp knife and be patient. You might need to slice more than one orange to get enough good slices, or, don’t be a perfectionist like me.

Once the syrup is boiling, turn down the heat and add the oranges. Try to spread them out so there aren’t too many layered on top of each other. Simmer the slices until the peels start to turn translucent, then remove them to a cooling rack to dry overnight. When I do this, I judge each slice individually, because some slices might take longer than others, especially if they were not cut on a mandoline and they are not all the same thickness.

Reserve the syrup for the cake.

That’s it! Once they are dry, store them in an airtight container. Don’t let your toddler get ahold of it or she will eat them all. For real.

Half Birthday’s Aren’t Just for Kids

I know this guy. We get along pretty well, so sometimes we hang out. Usually we don’t get to hang out by ourselves, but that’s OK with us since the rest of the usual group can be fun too, since they’re our kids and all.

Anyway, this guy’s name is Joe, and today is his half birthday. Normally grown-ups don’t celebrate half birthdays but that is just a crying shame. This morning when he flipped the calendar page he realized the date and wanted to know if he could have half a birthday cake.

I think he was a little surprised when I said sure, but who likes to get their hopes up and then have them dashed? Certainly not me.

So I made him one. I cheated a little and used a cake that had been in our freezer, pretty much just waiting for the right moment to come along. One when it would be thoroughly enjoyed.

Slathered with buttercream, who can tell the difference anyway? Ok, so the buttercream was in the freezer too, colored a very garish yellow from Lilli’s first birthday. 

We also had a Thai inspired feast for dinner, to go with our chocolate cake. Most of the foods in the meal weren’t anything special because this week we are trying to kind of clean out our freezers and use up leftovers because Joe’s kind of a frugal guy. I had some leftover teriyaki salmon that I turned into fish cakes with some lime, ginger and some cilantro straight from the garden. And I had some lemongrass and half a container of tofu so I made a quick curry tofu soup with a little bit of coconut milk. Well, maybe a lot of coconut milk.

The soup came straight from my own brain. The fish cakes too, which is maybe why they weren’t very pretty–they ended up more like fish hash than cakes but oh well. I don’t know how to cook Thai food like a pro, but I do love to eat it so I think I at least have that going for me. The recipes probably aren’t that authentic, but they were pretty simple and that’s helpful if you’re also trying to entertain a silly silly little girl while making dinner.

The cake came from Fanny Farmer, a book I use very frequently. There’s something about the old recipes that I really love–they are classic, sure, but mostly it’s how they are written. They’re so matter of fact. I have to tweak them sometimes, but I don’t mind a bit. There are a lot of pages stuck together, and the gold hardcover is starting to break down in places, but that just shows how loved it really is.

Fudge Cake
Adapted from Fanny Farmer, 1965 edition
makes two 7″ or 8″ cakes

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar, divided use
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 oz good semi sweet chocolate
5 Tbsp boiling water
3 eggs
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Cream together butter, vanilla, and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy.

Meanwhile, over a double boiler melt the chocolate. Once it’s melted smooth add the boiling water and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar.

Add to the butter mixture. Next add the eggs, one at a time. Beat after each addition, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add the flour to this mixture alternating with the milk.

Divide in the pans and bake about 20 minutes, rotating half way through. Check with a toothpick and give it 5 more minutes or so if needed. Cool completely before frosting.

Good News

You know how when the sun comes out in the middle of winter it’s like you’ve never seen it before? Even if it was out the day before? (But especially if like here in Seattle it was raining cats and dogs?) 

You know also, how when you actually get to go outside and let your totally bundled up self absorb some of that sunlight it makes you feel really warm and happy and want to skip around in a meadow somewhere.

Yeah me neither. Not at all.

Recently I made muffins that pretty much served to encapsulate that breath of sun in a slightly sweetened fluffy goodness. They had apricots. Lots and lots of them. Frozen at the peak of summer but then folded into a muffin batter hearty enough to sustain you on even the coldest winter day.

The bad news about these muffins is that you probably don’t have several gallon sized freezer bags full of apricots with which to make them over and over, like I have. The good news about them is that you really could use just about any type of fruit in them. They could have frozen berries, or peeled and chopped apples or pears, or even frozen peaches.

Oh, I thought of some more good news about these muffins. They are pretty healthy, since they’re whole wheat and oat and have a whole mess of protein rich ingredients alongside that pile of fruit.  They are a great breakfast or snack for this time of year, when most people are trying to eat a little bit lighter. Even more good news is that they are great slathered in butter, in case eating light isn’t a priority.

Sun is Shining Good News Muffins
makes 12 regular sized little cups of joy

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
  • 1/4 cup ground flax
  • 1/2 cup bran flakes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I like to use greek, it’s tangy!)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen berries or chopped fruit, loosely measured

Preheat your oven to 500°F. This will make the muffins rise up a lot and have a nice domed top. Don’t worry, you’re going to turn it down when you actually put the muffins in. 

Beat the liquid ingredients together until well combined, then add the bran flakes and stir till they’re mixed in all the way. Let it sit while you whisk together the dry ingredients and prepare your muffin tin. 

Whisk together all the dry ingredients, including the flax, in a large bowl. Then add the fruit and nuts and stir around to coat all the pieces in flour. This helps to keep them all from sinking to the bottom when the muffins bake.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and combine just until you don’t see any large streaks of flour left. It’s ok if the batter doesn’t look completely smooth.

Fill the cups of your tin about three-quarters full, maybe a little more. Place muffins in the oven and immediately drop temperature to 400°F. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until muffins test done with a toothpick.

The Results Are In: Marx Foods Capricious Chocolate Challenge

Update:  I didn’t win anything this time around, but thanks to all who cast a vote in my direction!

A couple of weeks can fly by so fast when you aren’t looking. Weeks filled with playdates, family holiday parties, Drs appointments and colds.

They’ve also been filled with testing. I was selected to participate in a contest Marx Foods was holding: to create an original recipe based on chocolate, using samples of ingredients supplied by them. I met the Marx Foods guys back at Will Bake For Food in November, and thought it would be fun to work on my recipe testing skills in a semi-high pressure format. What can I say, I do better under pressure. I did have a little trouble deciding what I wanted to make though, so could only narrow it down as far as 3 different recipes. Dear readers, you’re in for a little bit of a ride, but it’ll be worth it.



So, I’ve been busy testing out cookie batch after cookie batch. A little cookie made of humble ingredients that have been mixed up to be larger than the sum of their parts. A cookie that started out as one thing and quickly turned into something else, something better. I thought it would be pretty perfect to have a cookie recipe, since cookies are such a big thing this time of year. Am I right?



I also tested some créme brulées that ended up being pots de créme instead. And there’s also one savory dish, in case you don’t like dessert. (Who doesn’t like dessert?) More about those later, as first comes first. And if you like any of these recipes (or just like me) you can click the Marx Foods banner at the bottom to vote for me once the voting process has started!


Without further ado, here it is:


Mexican Chocolate Tea Cookies
makes about 32 cookies


These cookies are based on a common Mexican Tea Cookie, but also are based on a regular old Chocolate Crackle. They were inspired by the chilies included in the samples I got as part of the contest. 


8 oz semisweet chocolate, chips are ok but the better the chocolate, the better the cookie
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp chili powder (I used freshly ground dried Puya chilies from Marx Foods)*
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 oz toasted ground almonds
7 oz all purpose flour
4 oz mini chocolate chips


Sift the flour with the baking soda and salt and set aside.


In a double boiler, melt the chocolates. When completely melted, add in the spices and sugar and mix to combine. Add the oil and eggs all at once and mix thoroughly. Next add the almonds, stirring with kind of a smashing motion to make sure that any lumps are broken up. Lastly, add the flour mixture and stir just until you see no more streaks. Let the batter rest until it is cool to the touch, then mix in the mini chips, otherwise they’ll melt.


Cover and chill for several hours in the refrigerator, at least 3. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF, with racks in the lower and upper thirds.


Using a number 30 scoop, (or scooping about 1 1/2 Tbsp sized balls) portion the dough out, and place on a parchment lined tray. These cookies don’t spread much, so you want them to be nice and flat on the bottom and rounded on top, which is best achieved using the scoop. Leave about 2″ between each cookie.


Bake about 10 minutes, then rotate the pans, both top to bottom and spinning the pans front to back. Bake about 7 minutes more. They should be firm but not firm enough to lift off the pan while still hot. Let cool for about 5 minutes then remove to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar.

The rejects, which we gladly ate anyway



The best part about these cookies is that unlike a more traditional Mexican Tea Cookie, which are akin to a shortbread and must contain butter to taste good, these are parve (dairy free). If you keep kosher, that means that you can eat them as dessert following the main attraction:


Chocolate and Chili Braised Beef Short Ribs with Sweet Potato
serves about 6


The short ribs I used for this recipe are ones that came from the cow we bought back in summer. They were excellent, tender, flavorful and totally worth buying a freezer for. The sauce also goes great on the saffron roasted potatoes I served with the ribs. 


4 lbs 3″ beef short ribs with plenty of meat on the bones


For the dry rub:
2 Tbsp ground Puya chilies*
1 Tbsp ground Chipotle pepper
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp salt
10-12 grinds black pepper


For the braising liquid:
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 smallish sweet potatoes, cut into 1″ rounds
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 cups of your choice of broth (you might need more if your pan is bigger)
1 cup cold strong coffee
6 oz chocolate


Mix together the dry rub ingredients in a large bowl, and coat each piece of rib completely. Cover and refrigerate the ribs for several hours or overnight.


Heat a large (at least 5 qt) dutch oven with enough oil to just cover the bottom. Working in batches, brown each rib on all sides, taking care not to crowd the pieces so that they don’t steam themselves. Remove the ribs to a clean plate as you go.



Once all the ribs are browned, add in the onions and cook till translucent and starting to get a little brown, then add the tomato paste and garlic. Stir it around the pan, cooking it until it starts to smell like tomatoes, then add the coffee, being sure to scrape up all the browned bits that loosed up when you add the liquid. (Use a wooden spoon or other tool that won’t damage the surface of your dutch oven.) Add the sweet potatoes, and then the ribs, tucking everything in all together as best you can. Cover with stock and place in the bottom third of the oven. Cook about 2 hours, until the meat is tender. Remove the lid and cook another 1/2 hour more, letting the liquid reduce down.


Remove the pan from the oven and then remove the ribs, discarding any bones that fall slip out. Place the ribs in a bowl, and strain about 3/4 of the sweet potatoes and onions out of the broth. Let the broth rest for a few minutes and spoon off any excess fat that rises to the top. Add the meat back in, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer on the stove for about another 1/2 hour, tasting for spice. When I tasted mine, I kept getting a hit of spice at the back of my throat that led me to believe that it would be pretty hot, but it wasn’t as strongly flavoured as I feared once we were eating it with all the components together. In the last 15 minutes or so of cooking, add in the chocolate. Be sure and stir it up so the sauce reaches a nice smooth consistency, but then add back in some more of those sweet potatoes for a little bit of texture.


Serve immediately, with a little sour cream on the side to cool the heat, if you want it. (We used Sour Supreme)



Of course, if you’re not worried about having a parve dessert after your dinner, you could always serve the next recipe instead. They started out as créme brulées, with the intention of using the coconut sugar to make the crust on top. Turns out, it was too moist and brown a sugar to work well and mostly just burned instead. Well, since the texture of the pudding itself had been closer to a pot de créme anyway, I just went down that road.  

The original créme brulées



Fennel & Chocolate Pots de Créme
makes 6-8


1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 cup half & half
7 egg yolks
4 Tbsp coconut sugar*
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds removed*
6 oz good quality dark chocolate, chopped
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
2 tsp fennel pollen*


Preheat oven to 300ºF


In a medium sized, heavy bottomed pot, toast the fennel seeds until they are fragrant and starting to brown, just a couple of minutes. You’ll want to watch them carefully as they will burn easily. Using a wooden spoon, crush the seeds up a bit. Next, add the fennel pollen, vanilla bean, cream and half & half and heat until it almost reaches a boil. Turn off heat and add chocolate. Let this mixture steep for 15 minutes or so, until you can smell the fennel just the faintest little bit. If it smells stronger sooner, continue with the next steps.


While the chocolate mixture steeps, combine the sugars and the egg yolks in a large metal bowl.


Next, bring the chocolate mixture back to a simmer while stirring continuously (do not boil, or you risk burning the chocolate). Strain this mixture into the eggs yolks, and then whisk until fully combined. Pour into 6 small cups or ramekins, each at least 6 oz. You could also use smaller dishes and make more servings, as it’s a rich dish for some palates.


Cover each dish with foil and place in a high sided roasting pan. Place the pan in the oven on the middle rack and pour enough water into the pan to reach 1/2 way up the sides of the dishes. Bake for 30 minutes and check for doneness. Mine needed just about 7 more minutes after that. The crémes will be set around the edges but just barely so in the middle. Cool completely, and sprinkle just a pinch of coconut sugar over each one before serving, it lends a nice little crunch.




* These ingredients are the ones that were supplied to me by Marx Foods as part of the contest.

Wild Beasts

I recently took on a project that I’ve been meaning to do for a while and I’ve been putting off and putting off, mostly because it’s kind of high maintenance and I’m kind of a low maintenance type of girl. The project was to grow a wild yeast culture using the organic grapes that grow in our P-patch. 



This year the grapes were ripe right before we were due to go out of town for a week, so I picked them and then froze them, hoping that it would still work but setting my expectations fairly low in case it didn’t. I figured with that handicap and the fact that our house is almost as cold as it is outside, I wasn’t sure any yeast could survive, let alone thrive.

The starter in it’s early home, by the oven.

I’m using the method from Nancy Silverton’s Breads from La Brea Bakery. I was given a copy of this book as a wedding gift (I think?) and haven’t had a chance to use it at all since every recipe in the book calls for a starter of some sort that I just didn’t have the time to set up until now. The recipes in the book are fairly technical, so it’s not the best book for beginning bakers, but since I’ve baked a bit before I feel comfortable with the way she talks about the bread. I take it all with a gain of salt because she’s way way more into bread baking than me, but even us amateurs like a good loaf now and then. She does a very good job explaining all the steps and giving tips for how to do each part of the bread making process. 




So I went ahead with all the steps. It wasn’t too complicated, just sort of messy and delicate, also requiring a heaping helping of patience. The process takes about 2 weeks, from the day you crush your grapes to the day you bake you first loaf.

The first 9 days were simple. You make a mixture of flour and water, crush the grapes and add them, all secured in a clean airtight container. You check it every day, but you don’t have to do anything else very often. 


After those first 9 days is when it gets a little more time consuming. You have to feed the mixture 3 times a day–breakfast, lunch and dinner–with a rigid schedule of how long the bread can go without being fed. And you have to dump out a ton of mixture and start over with just a little over a pound every morning. This was the part I had the hardest time with. It’s not in my nature to throw away pounds and pounds of perfectly good flour. One, we’re pretty frugal around here, and two, I’m a pastry chef. Food waste is a huge sin in professional kitchens. 


So I set out on a mission to use up as much of that dang starter as I could. I also tried to give a lot of it away, by offering starter batches to friends and people in our farm co-op. I think I ended up giving away 4 batches, and using the starter in an equal number of unexpected projects in the kitchen. 

I made lots of cracker dough to freeze for entertaining over the holidays, with cayenne and olive oil. I used some to make sourdough waffles with apple cider. Eating those was like a little preview of heaven for foodies. And I made crumpets. Dozens of crumpets, two days in a row. Some of which we ate and the rest of which maxed out what was left of our freezer space. 

I can’t share the recipe for any of these things, since I made them all up on the fly. I guess my baking and cooking knowhow came in handy here, because I was able to just add enough of ingredients X, Y, and Z to make stuff work. 


What I can share is a very simple recipe for a salad. On Friday after making crumpets for what seemed like hours, we used them as our “challah” for a Shabbat dinner with our friend Aviva. Dinner ended up being sort of rushed, as she needed to be at the airport at 6:30, but it was still good to see a friend and share a meal, and to be able to enjoy some of the fruits of my hard work in the days leading up our meal. 



















The salad had endive, warm roasted beets and goat cheese and a dijon vinaigrette. That’s it, the entire recipe. Really. I think it would be equally good with some butter lettuce or blue cheese. And I suppose you could really use any vinaigrette that you like. Whatever you have lying around really. The secret is that the beets should still be warm, so the cheese and the dressing really meld all together. That’s what made it so fantastic.


I did finally get around to actually baking some real bread on Saturday–a rustic white bread, which I shaped into rolls for dipping in the minestrone I made that night. (More crust is totally better, right?) The bread was great. It rose slowly but had great oven spring, so I know my yeast is happy and healthy. Onto real challah this Friday!



Easy Dijon Vinaigrette
makes about 1 cup


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar (or all balsamic)
1 Tbsp or so sugar, honey or my favorite, pomegranate molasses
1 Tbsp good dijon mustard
1-2 cloves crushed garlic
salt and pepper to taste


Shake all the ingredients in a jar, adding more mustard if necessary to achieve a very smooth, emulsified texture. Taste for acidity and add more sweet if you like. I tend to like my pretty acidic and low on the oil. Keeps in the fridge for 2 weeks or so. 

The Goodies

Recently I decided that my plate wasn’t quite full enough and that I should take up a new hobby. One that people get obsessive over and do for ever and ever and love.

Knitting.


Yeah, I know. It’s kinda cliche and all that, but honestly, I have this little cutie who totally deserves to have all kinds of awesome things knitted for her, but not too many people to knit them but me. Things like this. Or this totally awesome berry pie hat, which by coincidence was just gifted to Lilli the same day as knitting club, a late birthday present from our friend Meghan.



The knitting club I joined is pretty low pressure if you can ignore the fact that we usually refer to it as a cult. It’s with people I was already well acquainted with, so I knew I would fit right in and be comfortable getting help. So far I’ve been to just 2 meetings, but there’s only been 3 since this group even started, so I’m off to a good start with the socializing part. The knitting part is going to take some time. At this Wednesday’s circle I discovered that I was actually knitting totally wrong but somehow came out with the right result. What can I say? I’ve got skills.

Last week there was some delicious white chocolate covered popcorn with cranberries that I ate way too much of. Especially considering that I was eating caramel corn every day. And the fact that it was covered in sticky melty white chocolate. Not exactly the best thing to have coating your fingers when you are trying to use them to hold onto yarn and knitting needles, but that did not stop me from eating too much anyway. There was also some ginger cookies made by the friend who started the group, and they too were addicting.

It’s a good thing I finally started that sit-up challenge this week, because I have been eating too much.


Anyhow, for this weeks meeting I decided that I should make a treat, since that’s what I do best. To get into the spirit of the season (most everybody else’s season, that is) I made delicious brownies. With, you guessed it, candy canes.


Normally my go to brownie recipe is the one from the cookbook put together by the founders of Chocolate Bar in New York, but I wanted to make a double batch and that would have required more eggs than I was willing to spare (eggs are in short supply around here lately, as most of the chickens are molting so they aren’t laying much).

I did a little searching and ended up basing them off of a recipe from the book Bittersweet instead. They are pretty much the perfect brownie, even without the addition of candy canes. If you like your brownies fudgy but not too moist or sticky, these ones are right on target, with an ever so slightly crackly crust and the right amount of chew.


I made them with Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa which I purchased out of curiosity. It’s responsible for the deep rich black color of the brownies, which I absolutely love. Somehow it just makes them taste better knowing that they look like a galaxy of candy cane stars.


In the end, I had to pull apart my scarf about 3 times over the course of the evening. One time for each brownie I ate. Oh well, at least I’m good at baking.



Peppermint Galaxy Brownies
adapted from the book Bittersweet by Alice Medrich
makes 16 roughly 2″square brownies, easily doubles

10 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup sugar (original recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, any type is fine but I used this
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy canes, plus extra for the top

Preheat oven to 325ºF, with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line an 8″ square baking pan with parchment paper, letting it overhang on 2 opposite edges.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter without browning. Remove from the heat and add the sugar and salt and stir until well combined. Add the cocoa powder and vanilla and combine till it forms a thick paste. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat with a wooden spoon or a spatula after each addition. Add the flour and stir until you don’t see any streaks of flour, then beat for an additional 40 strokes. About 20 strokes in add the crushed candy canes, and finish combining.

Spread batter in pan. Sprinkle on some more candy canes, as many as you like. Don’t go too heavy–you want there to be a balance of chocolate and peppermint. Bake about 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with some batter stuck to it, but not totally glopped on.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Use the edges of the parchment paper to remove from the pan. Cut with a sharp knife, wiping clean on a damp rag before eat cut.

Not Your Grandma’s Caramel Corn

I am unabashedly in love with popcorn. It’s pretty much a perfect food. It’s sorta plain on its own so it can be flavored like anything. It’s always crunchy. It’s easy to make. It’s easy to make totally fattening with loads of butter, or it’s easy to make very healthy with just a little olive oil.

I also am pretty sure that gingersnaps are another perfect food. They’re spicy and sweet, chewy and crispy. They’re all pretty and crackly, and the flavor is very complex. They’re probably my favorite cookie.

So what happens if you get a totally genius idea. To set gingersnaps and popcorn up on a blind date?


Well, if you add a bottle of champagne, like I did, then they have a love child that is pretty much the most perfectest food in existence. At least, this week.

And then if you have leftover popcorn from making that not-too-big-there’s-no-such-thing batch of caramel corn, you make something that is even better. Because you have the ingredients, and a buddy who is willing to get a little crazy with them. You know, the buddy whose idea it was to add rosemary and maple syrup to her caramel corn, because she’s also a genius.



It will also be spicy and sweet, and sorta floral too. That’s the cardamom talking. But when you taste the chipotle, then you know you have a winner.

The chipotle is like a ninja.


You can put in all in bags if you want, but chances are it won’t last long enough to get stale. Consider that your warning.

If you have a stash of popcorn kernels and some brown sugar and butter, you too can make a delicious snack that will make your house smell good until the next day. 

Variations on Caramel Corn
makes about 8 quarts

Old Fashioned:

8 or so quarts air or oil popped popcorn, plain
2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup butter
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 250ºF. Bring the sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt to a boil while stirring. Once it’s really going, let it boil undisturbed for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the baking soda and vanilla. Stir well (careful, it might foam up) and pour over popcorn. Coat completely and spread over sheet pans. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Let cool, break up any big chunks, and devour store in an airtight container.

Gingersnap Caramel Corn:

Replace the corn syrup with blackstrap molasses.
Replace light brown sugar with dark brown.
With the baking soda, add the following:
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
Omit vanilla.
For extra ginger kick, add a cup of finely diced candied ginger to the caramel just before pouring over the popcorn.

Cardamom Chipotle Caramel Corn:

Follow the recipe for Old Fashioned, but add 1 (heaping) tsp cardamom and 3/4 tsp chipotle when you add the baking soda.

Rosemary Maple Caramel Corn:

Replace the corn syrup with grade B maple syrup.
When combining the popcorn and caramel, add about 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary as you stir, or more to taste.
Omit vanilla.