The Pursuit of Chocolate Chip Cookies

Having a really good cookie recipe on hand has always been a simple goal of mine. Yet I have to admit always been a little bit intimidated by baking because the results are so much more confined by what we know from the best of an eating life: a moist slice of layer cake, the flaky and buttery croissant, a fudge brownie, the perfect chewy chocolate chip cookie.That kind of perfection in a bite is daunting. It’s so much easier for me to fake my way into cooking with free form recipes, building flavors as I learn to master cooking profiles but covering my mistakes as I go. But baking, it’s one miss and you’re out, left with a pan of a buttery mess. (Yes, I will still eat that mess with ice cream but it’s not the same thing as a good end result.)

Finally though I discovered Baking Illustrated by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated. This new cookbook acquisition has quickly replaced the baking sections of my other beloved cookbooks. I’ve already mastered a great pastry crust, the small tweaks easily making it my favorite for both savory or sweet pies. And now  just this past snowy Thursday afternoon, we made the Baking Illustrated simple Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe; I’m still astounded by how  consistently great those cookies turned out to be. 

The recipe surprised me in two ways: First, the melting of butter, which makes the cookies softer for longer. Second, the technique to break the rounded quarter cup of cookie dough into two pieces and then placing the roughed edges up, smoothing the pieces back together on the sides. The result from this technique creates the most pleasing looking cookie top.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Baking Illustrated

Ingredients:
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cool until just warm
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus one 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1 1/2 cups baking chocolate, chopped into rough pieces by hand. I use Ghiradelli dark.

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 325. Put the racks on the upper and lower middle positions. Line two baking sheets with slipats or parchment paper.

2. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Set aside for now.

3. With an electric mixer, combine butter and sugars until combined. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add the dry to the wet ingredients, beating at a low speed until just combined. Stir in the chocolate.

4. Roll a scant 1/4 cup of cookie dough into a ball with your hands. Grip by the sides and pull horizontally. Put the rough, pulled apart sides up, rotating 90 degrees.  Bring the dough ball back together, pressing the sides gently but keeping the top rough sides untouched.  Place on cookie sheets 2 inches apart with rough part facing up.

5. Bake until the cookies are a light golden, with the edges hardening but the insides still soft, about 15-18 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom halfway through the cooking time. Cool on the cookie sheets.

 

The Organized Digital Life

 

minimalistappsI love reading about digital organization schemes not only because I’m a bit of a organizational fangirl but  because I think the key to organizing is not being strict to one philosophy but revisiting your own structure every so often.  In the spirit of New Years resolutions large and small, here are my favorite apps for a minimalist  to organized digital life.  Less is more when you’re keeping your things organized online.

Google Keep

This is the most basic of note taking applications. For me this basic interface makes it the most powerful of any I’ve tried. At any given time I’ll have notes about what I’m missing from my wardrobe (key to keeping my shopping habits in check, a pro-tip for the shopping addict like me), what we need at the grocery store, to notes on writing, organizing my finances, and  creative ideas I don’t want to forget. When I’m traveling, I keep a note of places to see and things to do so I can check off as the vacation goes. You can easily check items off, archive notes, and add things like reminders and images, too.

In short: Google Keep is just clean and clear for minimalist note keeping. Plus, you can access your keep notes via your desktop or google drive.

Springpad

Although I am what I’d unabashedly call a Pinterest poweruser I actually use another social bookmarking organization tool just as much. Springpad is a  robust bookmarking and organization platform. While I find Pinterest is very beautiful for discovery, Springpad is more of a workhorse for my everyday.  Key to me is that I can set many boards as private and have options to include things like notes/checklists. How do I use Springpad in organizing my life? I have shared private Springpad boards for meals to make, things to do in New York City, lists of apartment projects, and for researching career and volunteer interests.  I also have public boards like the one I track things Made in the USA to reference later. The mobile app also has the functionality to barcode scan which I find helpful when I’m out and about. A nice little extra is  when you add a recipe from a food magazine like Food & Wine it will structure the recipe as a logical recipe as well as provide an option to add everything to a grocery list.

In short: I enjoy that Springpad is highly functional, collaborative, has a nice browser plugin, and values privacy.

Feedly

Were you a Google Reader obsessed guy or gal who mourned that service’s loss? I was. Sigh. Feedly may be the best way to match that reader experience. Feedly is beautifully designed and integrates nicely with other services too. You can instantly save things to Pocket which I use all the time. The ability to  organize your feeds appeals to my ever changing tastes in what blogs, news, and media sources I’m reading. The display of headlines and mark all as read is key to quick browsing too in the age of twitter-as-news-source.

In short: Feedly fits nicely with my blog reading  habits and finding longer things to read to save for later. It’s the best place to unify my love of politics, feminism, and house design. It is also beautiful.

Pocket

There are so many save-things-to-read-later applications out there right now but I’ve loved Pocket even before they were even called Pocket. I even made it into their top 5% of readers in 2013. The simplicity of the concept is what I love: save things to read later. A clean layout, a browser extension, the ability to cache your list for offline browsing, sending articles to friends, organizing things by tags, and starring what’s good to know you’re best of list make Pocket highly usable. When I took the train from Chicago to San Francisco, where we had no internet connection, saved articles in Pocket were all I read while watching the middle of the country blur by from out roommette train window.

In short: Pocket makes reading from the web beautiful and easy, and sharing to other readers is seamless.

LastPass

After someone in Germany hacked into my Facebook account I took password security and management seriously. LastPass is a free and premium password manager. The idea is you have a strong master password to access your LastPass account but then all the other passwords are  strings of 12 characters generated and saved to the LastPass vault. I pay for the premium account so I have access to my LastPass password vault on my phone. The browser extension is wonderful too.

In short: LastPass is highly rated, strong, and as close as you can get to very secure for keeping your passwords safe.

TuneIn

TuneIn is a simple way of streaming radio wherever you are, from around the world. You can use it both on your desktop and on a mobile/tablet device.  TuneIn is perfect as a central source for live streaming radio programs and podcasts of your favorite shows. When I’m making dinner I’ll search for All Things Considered or perhaps the local stations near me to see what’s playing. I can also access podcasts from BBC Newshour and Democracy Now. Funnily enough, I’ll even plug my phone into my real, old time radio to play radio programs I’m streaming over the speakers.

In short: I love that even as technology advances, radio is still awesome and accessible through a service like TuneIn.

 

So there it is, my very favorite applications for organizing my digital life. Of course there are other services I use. I specifically left out spotify just because I love it so much I would probably end up writing an entire essay about it. I have yet to really find an independent financial app that I like for organizing my money. So far I do a combination of old fashioned spreadsheet analysis and checking bank statements.

What are you favorite applications for organization? Let me know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts On Building a Graphic Novel Library

Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 12

Despite the fact that my apartment is out of viable bookshelves–does a stack by the bedside count as a bookshelf?–in 2014 Brian and me decided to start a graphic novel collection at home. Graphic novels are books I’m still partial to reading in print; the size and scope of the content just doesn’t work well enough for me on tablet yet. Plus, there is also something about collecting and curating graphic novels as beautiful books to have and touch. Why buy coffee table books ever again?

One afternoon after we declared our challenge, I was browsing in a local Barnes and Noble graphic novel and manga aisles, realizing just how packed with people reading, sitting, and obsessing it was. I thought then: How did graphic novels become so popular and how was it I knew so little about them? I’d only ever read one graphic novel before in all honesty– Ghost World- but really just because I had loved the film adaptation.

Publisher’s Weekly details a neat history and discussion about the genre, their role in libraries, their popularity with young people, even their worth in literacy instruction. Plus, the article features a succinct description of their trajectory into literary mainstream:

So how did comics and libraries first team up to save the world, superhero-style? Although there has long been academic opposition to comics—and in earlier years the tacky material sometimes warranted some suspicions—sheer excellence eventually broke the ice. Acclaimed books like Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1991) and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen (1987) have spurred academic interest in comics, which opened many doors for the medium. The 2000s brought a slew of new classics as traditional publishers put out much-lauded, award-winning titles like Marjane Satropis’s Persepolis (2000), Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006), Raina Telgemier’s Smile (2010), and Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware (2000).

Although many librarians had long been comics fans, interest seemed to take off in the early 2000s, when manga (Japanese comics) was banging down the doors of teen readers, and graphic novels began to gain serious traction in the bookstore market. A generational shift powered this acceptance, as librarians who came of age reading heady material by Moore and Neil Gaiman got purchasing power and started building collections. The circulation figures did the rest.

Clearly, the world of graphic novels is vast and very awesome. So where do you start?

The first step was researching Best of Graphic Novel lists to compare. The list at Forbidden Planet was the go-to.  A recent BuzzReads Graphic Novel 101 was worth a read too. Second, in narrowing down for the selection, we tried to strike a balance between all the different contemporary themes from super hero to horror to teenage angst to the political. We decided on a starting list of twelve, pulling many from the best of list, and adding in a few wildcards (I’m looking at your Buffy.) The ultimate goal was not to get stuck in only buying the so-called best of by critical standards or all of one much lauded author, but attain a wide taste of books to guide us as we read.

What have we learned so far by starting the collection?

The first graphic novel I read was Black Hole, cementing my feelings that I love dark, contemporary literary graphic novels the best. Brian has loved the Sandman Volume One so much he’s begun buying more volumes of that series.

After we created and bought our list I realized one glaring omission: where are all the ladies? So now I want to expand the collection with more women authored  graphic novels. So far I’ve found great lists for recommendations for lady written graphic novels on Goodreads and XOJane.

The collection will be growing which is exactly the goal of starting with a select list: start branching out, figuring out what your collection lacks, build upon what you like so far, repeat, repeat, repeat. I vision more ladies, more avant garde, filling in series, and a few beautiful editions in our future.

 

(Our) Beginners Graphic Novel Collection:

  1. From Hell, Alan Moore 
  2. Watchmen, Alan Moore
  3. The Complete Persepolis, Maryjane Satrapi
  4. V for Vendetta, Alan Moore
  5. The Walking Dead Compendium One, Robert Kirkman
  6. The Invisibles Volume 1, Grant Morrison 
  7. Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 Volume 1, Joss Whedon 
  8. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller
  9. Ghost World, Daniel Clowes
  10. The Complete Maus, Art Spiegelman
  11. The Sandman, Vol 1, Neil Gaiman 
  12. Black Hole, Charles Burns

 

 

 

White Bean, Butternut Squash and Kale Soup

Clearly I haven’t been blogging much lately. I have been still creating a lot good eats–like fig and cashew granola and apple-squash curry soup–but the blog has become a wee bit dusty in the meantime. Sometimes you just need a break from things though.

I learned something fundamental last night that inspired me to post: freshly grated Parmesan makes all vegetable soups better. See, I had the creative bug last night, urging me to make a gigantic mess in the kitchen. I wanted soup. I wanted to clean out tons of vegetables from the crisper bin to make a huge cast iron pot full of it. My second soup of the season. Since I didn’t have ham, bacon, or sausage to deepen the  flavor I turned to the Parmesan wedge. It did just the trick.

This is just the kind of no-frills soup that I can see transitioning from fall to winter. It is hearty with butternut squash roasted beforehand in olive oil and creamy white beans. The standard vegetable broth is heightened with Parmesan and dried herbs. Kale, usually a bitter green, is softened by all the other flavors.

I had a second dinner of soup last night. I could get used to ten o’clock bowls of soup, topped with cheese.

White Bean, Butternut Squash and Kale Soup
Serves 6

Ingredients:

3 cups of butternut squash, peeled and sliced into chunks
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 celery stick
1 carrot stick
1/2 white onion
4 cups vegetable stock and 2 cups water
1 can of white beans, rinsed
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
6 cups of packed, chopped kale
1 dried bay leaf
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan, (more for serving)
1 tablespoon of pesto (more for serving)

Directions:

1. Toss butternut squash chunks with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Roast on 350 for 18-20 minutes, tossing a few times to ensure even cooking/browning.

2. While squash is roasting, mince the celery, carrot, and onion. Prepare other ingredients to have ready.

3. Near end of roasting add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to big soup pot. Heat to medium high. Add in celery, carrot, onion. Cook for 5-7 minutes until soft.

4. Add in white beans. Season with salt and pepper. Add rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf.

5. Add roasted butternut squash, broth, water and bring to a boil. Slowly add in cups of kale, wilting each in the boiling soup before adding the next. Squeeze lemon juice over pot.

6. Bring down to a low simmer and cook for 10-20 minutes, to let the flavors combine.

7. Remove bay leaf. Add parmesan and pesto after finishing simmering, swirling them into the soup. Salt and pepper now if more is needed. Serve with more parm and pesto with each bowl.The flavors of this soup improve after a day in the fridge!

Homemade Creme Fraiche + Bacon/Corn Pizza with Creme Fraiche

When I visited Chicago over labor day weekend there was a pizza (not deep dish, though) that started my interest in creme fraiche. In the Andersonville neighborhood there was an itsy bitsy pizza shop, recommended by the friend we were staying with, called Great Lake. It is the kind of the place that has few seats and where the pizzas are made by the owner from scratch so they take upwards of an hour to craft. But guess what? The pizza was out of this world good. It was the crust, springy and bread-like, that made me understand all the hype. .  One of the pies we shared had a creme fraiche base topped with corn, bacon, and red onion. It tasted kinda like: “Damn! I wish I had thought of these flavors on a pizza before.” I knew I had to recreate the flavors at home.

A little investigation taught me that there is no need to buy creme fraiche. In science class fashion, you can make it yourself with a little effort and trust. Homemade creme fraiche means stirring a small amount of yogurt or buttermilk into heavy cream and letting it sit out of the fridge, covered, until thick. Magically the cultures  thicken the mixture, giving it a slightly sour tang, like a gentler relative of sour cream. I now have creme fraiche in the fridge, ready to use in savory and sweet dishes, just like that. First thing I did was reconstruct the pizza, though. I had to. It rocked.

Homemade Creme Fraiche

Makes 1 cup

Ingredients:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons yogurt or buttermilk
a container or jar with a lid

Directions:

1.  Mix the cream and yogurt (or buttermilk) together in the container/jar. A whisk helps if using the yogurt.

2. Leave in warm area–ideally around 70 degrees–covered for up to 24 hours. Make sure the seal is good. If you don’t have a cover  you could use plastic wrap and a rubber band on the top of a washed out jar.

3. You will know the creme fraiche is ready when it is thick but still pourable plus it will be slightly sour. If it is not getting thicker try placing it in a warmer place like under a lamp or near a warm stove.

4. Store in the fridge for about week.

5. Besides pizza creme fraiche works in deserts, in pasta with ham/peas, on crepes, in soups, etc. Really anywhere a little richness can be used.

Of course here is the outline for the pizza I had. I’m not saying it was Great Lake quality because that pizza was just too good to replicate at home but the flavors are what I was looking for. The combination does not disappoint:

Bacon and Corn Pizza with Creme Fraiche

Serves around 2

Ingredients:
Pizza dough made by hand or buy some ready to bake at the store.
2 slices of bacon, cut into lardons/chunks
1 small red onion, sliced
1 cup of corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup creme fraiche
salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 500. If you have a pizza stone put it in to preheat too.

2. In a skillet over medium high heat cook the bacon until almost crispy. Add in the onion and corn. Cook until just browned. Remove from heat.

3. Top pizza, either before going into the oven or after prebaking the crust, with creme fraiche and the bacon/corn/onion mixture.

4. Cook for 5-7 minutes until browned.

5. Sprinkle a liberal amount of salt and pepper when finished. This is key, trust me.

6. Eat away!

 

Blueberry Oatmeal Pancakes

Making pancakes on a weekend morning always feels fancy and lazy. It means taking out the flour and spilling it all over the red tiled flour without noticing for longer than a while. It means lingering with coffee that goes from hot to cold because I’m not getting up off the couch. It means watching Disney Channel TV shows on ABC because we don’t have cable. It means not taking a shower for a long, long time. Pancakes are a rebellion against the nine to five life. At least I think so.

For the longest time now I have been using the Mark Bittman everyday pancake recipe exactly–why mess with something that works? After sampling some oatmeal waffles, though, I began making a few changes to the standard recipe. Just adding some oatmeal, a little vanilla extract, and brown sugar turned the regular everyday pancake into something reminiscent of a baked good.

Now that the farmer’s market is full of pretty, colorful things I couldn’t resist blueberries for breakfast. I plopped around eight blueberries into each pancake as it bubbled on the skillet. They sizzled and exploded with color. The cinnamon and brown sugar make theses pancakes like muffins. The end result is a chewier pancake with bursting blueberries.

 

Blueberry Oatmeal Pancakes
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal pulsed in a food processor to become flour
1/4 cup old fashioned oats
2 teaspoons  baking power
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup of washed blueberries
butter for a skillet

Directions:

1.  Combine all purpose flour, the oatmeal flour (created by processing old fashioned oats in a food processor), the old fashioned oats, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl. Sift.

2. In another bowl combine the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract.

3. Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients until almost smooth.

4. Heat a skillet on medium. Add some butter.  Add 1/4 cup of batter.  Drop around 8-10 blueberries into each pancake. Flip once lots of little bubbles appear. Cook until browned on both sides. Repeat. Add extra butter after each pancake if needed.

 

Soba Noodles in Ginger Broth for One


Kitchen failures. That is the theme of January so far.

First, my pita breads did not puff up in the oven. I pleaded with them. I rolled them thinner. But they ended up as limp mini pizzas. Was it me or the recipe? I can’t tell. Worst of all is that I just don’t have it in me to retry the recipe yet.

Next came Guinness brownies that wouldn’t be no matter how much melted chocolate I spread on top. I got inventive–a little cinnamon here, a little Guinness syrup there–but I baked bad brownies in the end. I actually threw them away. I never throw things away either. I finally made a dark beer cake that was pretty perfect except for the fact that it collapsed in the middle. A sunken cake that tastes great doesn’t quite fix everything. It worked a little bit, though.

Oh well. I guess failing is part of getting better? It still bothers me, but I can move on.

I’ve decided instead to write about the easiest recipe I’ve ever invented. Best of all it feeds one (me) so I can make it fast, without thinking too much or writing a recipe. And it is the kind of comforting warm and carb loaded dish that in the bitter temperatures and icy air I crave.

I came up with the dish this past week out of boredom. I’ve adapted it twice already. I was stuck inside because of a rain, sleet, and snow. I made a huge bowl of soba noodles in a ginger broth and just lingered, sitting, reading, and watching tv. The nutty soba noodles and the light ginger broth work perfectly, the kind of creation that owes a lot to the fast food Asian dishes I’ve come to love.

The fixings are customizable. Collards, carrot matchsticks, and scallion seemed easy enough, but sliced cooked chicken or pork could be added at the end. Not to mention the affinity this dish has for an egg in any form. Fried egg on top? Why not! Hard boiled may even be better, sliced thin and topped right before serving. Chili garlic sauce, for me, is essential. A heaping tablespoon adds a spicy depth.

Sometimes food that is so basic you forget about it altogether is the best kind to eat because it won’t end up like failed brownies, lonely in your trash. And it will keep you warm.

I present the cure for kitchen disasters in January:

Soba Noodles in Ginger Broth (for one)

Ingredients for broth:
3 cups of water
1 tablespoon of soy sauce, with more for serving
1 chunk of peeled ginger (about a tablespoon)
1 garlic clove
1/2-1 bunch of soba noodles
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
fixings:
1/2 cup of chopped greens
2 scallions, sliced thinly
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
sesame seeds
optional fixings:
chili garlic sauce
hard boiled or fried egg
sliced cooked chicken or pork
whatever your heart desires

Directions:

1. In a sauce pan heat 3 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce with chunk of ginger and the peeled garlic clove. Bring to a boil. Remove the garlic clove but let the ginger remain. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Drizzle with a teaspoon of sesame oil.

2. Add the soba noodles and fixings. If using meat, add here. If using fried or hard boiled egg, wait until the end. Chili garlic sauce can be added now or at the end. Cook for 3-5 minutes. The noodles will be done quite quickly, so the fixings should be sliced thin so that they cook fast as well.

3. In a large bowl serve the noodles first with the fixings on top. Then pour broth into bowl. Serve with additional sesame seeds, soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili garlic sauce (if using). Top with additional fixings if you decide to like: egg, meat, additional vegetables and scallions, etc.

4. Eat with a fork and a spoon if you don’t own chopsticks (regretfully, like me)

Cranberry and Walnut No Knead Bread

I was a bit slow this past week in reviewing a new cookbook, but Jim Lahey’s My Bread kept me busy with baking rather than reviewing.  I tried several of the book’s variations mostly with success and with one failure. The loaf featuring cranberries and walnuts pictured here worked out perfectly though; it was airy, light, crusty, and slightly cinnamon-y. It would be perfect for thanksgiving leftovers when turkey sandwiches abound.

There are endless variations of Lahey’s no-knead method in his first cookbook making it a real treat for anyone who loves the simple no knead method but craves a bit more in terms of flavor and expansion of the technique. Lahey’s recipe for artisan quality bread, originally published in 2006 by Mark Bittman, uses time rather than  hands do the kneading. It literally took the home baker by storm. Thus, the first section of Lahey’s book is dedicated to an in depth review, with beautiful illustrative images, of the original recipe for his signature holey, light, and glorious bread.  Even a new no knead bread-er could jump right in with Lahey’s introduction.

Lahey takes the no knead bread in new directions here too: with dried fruits, with freshly squeezed juices, beer, and with shapes and forms that still harness the heat and humidity of a covered cast iron pot to create a successful bread at home. He evens dedicates time to sandwich fillings such as roasted ham and artichoke confit, all inspired his Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. It is safe to say that I wish I owned this book instead of just library-ing it.

My one failure occurred with the carrot and currant loaf that I had such high hopes for. The idea of using carrot juice drew me in the moment I read the recipe. Carrot juice instead of water? Genius! It worked for Martha Stewart too (clearly I must have made a mistake because Martha controls the culinary world with perfection.) My tinkering with the original recipe may have caused the failure. I swapped dates for the currants which seemed to inhibit the dough from rising. I can’t be sure yet what went wrong but I’d try it again to see if I could make it work. I may have simply added too little yeast.

I decided to blog about the cranberry and walnut version because it is a simple variation, making it a good recipe for both novices and no knead aficionados alike. This could be your very first no knead loaf or your 100th; you will still love the end result.  Brian and I both mix up the regular  bread several times a week to make sandwiches and to eat for breakfast. Toasted bread with jam is the ultimate breakfast We found the addition of dried fruit and nuts made a big difference. I’m thinking of baking a few boules of this recipe the night before we drive to upstate new york for thanksgiving as a gift for his family. I love gifting no knead bread because it always incites such awe (when in reality, it is a deceptively simple recipe.)

NOTE: Lahey provides ingredients in both weight and volume. I must admit that I do not weigh my flour. I know I should but I have found success with just careful scooping and really getting to know what dough should look like. So I provided the volume measure here.

Cranberry and Walnut No Knead Bread

From My Bread

Ingredients:

3 cups bread flour
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon yeast
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups of water (at around 55-65 degrees)
cornmeal or wheat bran for dusting

supplies: 6-8 quart oven proof covered pot
Directions:

1. Mix the flour, cranberries, walnuts, salt, cinnamon, yeast, and pepper in large plastic mixing bowl. Remember the bread with double in size so accommodate for expansion when picking the bowl.

2. Add the water and mix either with hand or a wooden spoon until a shaggy ball of dough forms. If needed, add a bit more water or flour. It will not be a perfect ball of smooth dough though. It will be tacky and sticky but it should come together quickly in about 5 minutes.

3. Let the dough rise for 12-18 hours in a warm place, covered with plastic wrap or a non-terry cloth tea towel. It will be wet and porous after this first rise. It should more than double in size as well.

4. After the first rise dust a work surface with flour and plop the dough down. Gently and drying not to degas and deflate the dough shape into a ball by folding the sides into the middle.

5. Spread a tea towel down and dust with cornmeal or wheat bran. Place the folded seam side down on the towel. Dust the top with more cornmeal or wheat bran. Fold the towel over to cover the ball of dough.

6. Let the dough rise for 2 hours in a warm location.

7. A half hour before the dough will have completed the second rise preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place an oven proof 6-8 quart covered pot into the oven to preheat as well.

8. When ready carefully open the heated pot. Use the towel to plop the dough, seam side up, into the pot. I just sort of unroll the towel and the dough naturally falls.

9. Cover and bake. However, the baking of no knead dough varies for me. Here is my advice: Basically, you want to bake the bread for set of time covered and then you want to uncover to bake again to ensure browning of the crust. Lahey suggests 30 minutes for the first period and another 15-20 for the next period.  I have had success with baking for 15 minutes, uncovering, and then baking for another 15 until the internal temperature is 200 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer to check doneness you want the bread to be browned and hollow sounding when tapped. You will also hear little crackles when the bread is close to your ear. I would recommend baking covered for 15 minutes and then checking to see if the bread looks done but not browned. If it looks almost ready I’d take the cover off and bake another 15-20 minutes. If the bread is still doughy after the first 15 minutes continue baking for another 15 minutes covered to complete the full 30 minutes recommended by Lahey, and then remove the cover and bake until the bread is browned, 15 minutes more.

Roasted Apples and Delicata Squash with Thyme-Maple Marinade

I went apple picking a few weekends ago. It was the first time Brian had ever gone as well as the first time he had eaten  apple cider donuts. The last time I went apple picking was ages ago but it definitely was a rite of passage as a kid. I noticed a lot  of state license plates at the orchard though; I guess I never thought about how New Englandy the tradition was. It is funny to move home after college and find it all so interesting, like some strange anthropological study in your childhood. A study in food too, since there is so much more eating involved now than there was when I lived here in high school.

Brian managed to do all the picking. He has some strange an affinity for climbing trees and attempting to reach those untouchable apples,  the ones that stare at you all glistening in the sun while you settle for finding low limbed stragglers still good enough to eat. I don’t remember what kinds of apples he picked while up there, I just schlepped our bounty around while snapping photos of the almost barren apple trees. I also ate a lot of apples while meandering the orchard. But isn’t that a rule made to be broken?

Although the apple picking season has come and gone, I wanted to write about something I made with what we took home. Other than eating an apple two or three times during the work day, I really enjoyed sneaking apple slices into otherwise regular meals. It started with oatmeal, then moved to yogurt cake, then super hearty breakfast muffins, finally pancakes and now roasted with squash in a sweet and savory marinade.

Alongside the apples I roasted delicata squash from the same farm. I may or may not have picked the best apples for roasting, but I couldn’t care either way. The apples and squash were tossed in fresh sprigs of thyme, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, olive oil, a few dried spices, and mashed garlic. Then the whole thing was roasted for nearly hour, smelling subtlety sweet and tempting me to poke around every so often with eagerness and a sharp fork. Spinach and sausage accompanied the dish on the side when finished.

This recipe by no means reinvents the wheel. I merely made it up while staring at the round squash considering the striations of its skin, whether to sauté or roast it, and how I could ultimately eat sausage with whatever I created. But I like celebrating the fall. It makes the looming winter, which is far off I tell myself, more palatable.

Roasted Apples and Delicata Squash with Thyme-Maple Marinade

Makes 4-6 servings, depending on size of portion

Ingredients:
1 pound delicata squash, sliced into thin half moons with the skin intact
2 apples, unpeeled, sliced and diced into thick chunks. Try to keep these a bit larger to hold up while roasting
1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 clove of garlic, mashed

a pinch, around 1/8 of a teaspoon, of dried sage and rosemary

4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:


1. You can eat the skin of delicata squash! I like this new found information.

2. Preheat the oven to 400

3. Place squash and apples in a large baking dish where they are evenly spread around.

4. In a separate bowl, mix apple cider vinegar, olive oil and maple syrup. Add the garlic clove and the pinch of dried rosemary and sage. Mix again.

5. Drizzle marinade over squash and apples. Toss a few times to ensure an evening coating.

6. Place sprigs of thyme over the squash and apples.

7. Roast until tender, around 1 hour. Check often though, because ovens vary widely in actual temperature. I also rotated the pan a few times to ensure even heating because my older oven seems to not always cook so evenly.

8. When finished, salt and pepper to taste.

Sweet Potato, Chickpea and Collard Greens Soup

There is this soup from Smitten Kitchen that never leaves my mind, especially once it gets cold outside. It features spicy sausage and sweet potatoes. The end result is a delightful but rustic cross between a pureed soup and a hearty stew. And I just love the smoky flavor imparted by the sausage, which is first browned and then removed so that all the deliciousness can be transferred to the onions and garlic to make the soup base.

All my love aside, Sunday night I just didn’t have any sausage. And I really wanted that soup.

I thought instead of running out, why not just make the recipe without the sausage? The technique is the real star, where you mash half of the potatoes right in the pot, with or without sausage.

I just needed to come up with a new spice combination to proceed. Smoked paprika, which is fast becoming the one ingredient I use in everything, came to mind.  A few other spices added complexity but I threw in nothing too involved. A Sunday night dish isn’t the kind I want to be laboriously mixing spices for.

This chunky and thick soup is delicious not only right after it is made but later on in the week, once the flavors mesh together. I honestly didn’t miss the sausage either. I’m a definite fan of sausage soup (mostly because it is a funny thing to say and write about) but a complex and hearty vegetable dish with color and heat is always welcome.

I also believe this adapted version confirms that pretty food doesn’t taste as good as not so pretty food. These are not winning photographs, but the soup is good.

Sweet Potato, Chickpea and Collard Greens Soup

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can of chickpeas, washed and patted dry
1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon and 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika, divided
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 pound sweet potato, cut into small cubes or slices
1 small potato, cut into small cubes or slices
4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (if you want this to be vegan)
2 cups chopped and torn uncooked collard greens.

Directions:

1. Heat the olive oil in a deep heavy pot over medium high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika and the chickpeas. Brown for 5-10 minutes.  Remove chickpeas and set aside.  Add the onions, garlic and remaining spices. Brown for 5-10 minutes, mixing thoroughly to make sure the spices do not burn.

2. Add both the sweet and regular potatoes. Cook the potatoes for 12 minutes until they begin to soften.

4. Add the broth and mix vigorously, making sure to incorporate any browned onions pieces hugging the bottom of the pot. Let the soup come to a boil.  Once boiled, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

5. After 15 minutes of simmering take a potato masher and mash about 1/2 of the potatoes in the soup so that the texture begins to transform into a blended yet still chunky mix. This is best judged by you so taste often!

6. Add two cups of chopped collard greens and the set aside browned chickpeas. Let the soup simmer, covered, for another 5-10 minutes until the greens are soft and wilted.