Friday, August 29, 2014

Zucchini Ginger Bread

When you're pregnant everyone wants to know what things you crave. The pickles and ice cream imagery is ingrained in our collective popular culture. It is also the only one of the more pleasant and conversationable sides of pregnancy. (No one ever asks if you've mapped out every conceivable public restroom within a 20-block walk of your home. Thanks for asking, I have.)

My pregnancy cravings are audience-appeasing odd. Like canned sardines, hot fudge and mayonnaisey lobster rolls. Recently, on a hot, sunny, bright-blue-typical summer day I had an intense craving for.... gingerbread. Dark, intense, wintery gingerbread. Of all things? So having just been gifted a Frankenstein of a zucchini from a recent trip up north, I summer-ized my craving and produced something really worthy of a reincarnation or two before zucchini season departs.

I imagine Olaf the summer snowman particularly enjoying this recipe. My toddler loves this bread too; I think he'd like it even more if I dubbed it Olaf's bread. (And while you're at it, watch Frozen if you haven't already. You can thank me later.)

Zucchini Ginger Bread

As always I used spelt flour, which, in case you needed a reminder, is 100% swappable 1:1 for wheat flour and comes in light (re: all-purpose) or whole grain (re: like "whole wheat") varieties. I used half light spelt and half whole grain spelt and would recommend a 50/50 split for those using wheat too.

This makes a dark, gingery, spicey loaf. Don't worry about missing the "zucchini" taste - does zucchini really taste like anything anyway? - but you can half the ginger if you want a milder bread.

Makes 2 loafs

2 cups spelt flour (see note above)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cardamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 cups grated zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 and grease two loaf pans. 
In a large bowl whisk together the first 8 ingredients. In a medium bowl whisk together the sugar, molasses, eggs and oil until very well combined. Dump the wet ingredients into the dry and stir just until combined. Fold in the zucchini. Spread evenly into the two pans and bake for about 45 mins - 1 hour, depending on oven temperature and type of pan used. A toothpick inserted in the middle should have moist crumbs - don't overbake. This bread freezes very well, just make sure it is completely cool before wrapping in plastic and freezing.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blue cornmeal pancakes

I have a thing about pancakes. I am not a great morning person and yet every morning I make a cooked breakfast, and half the time it is pancakes. Many might find it odd that an am grump could muster the energy and enthusiasm to bake. But to me, cold cereal is one of the few things that can make a morning worse than it already de facto is. You will know I am in a deep funk if you ever find me serving my kids Cheerios at 7am.

So I already have at least five different pancake recipes up - more for my own convenience than for hope that anyone else will be crazy enough to follow my morning lead - but I love these blue ones too so I had to copy it down here. The original recipe from joy of cooking calls for yellow cornmeal but I love using blue cornmeal for the fun slightly blue tinge it gives the pancakes. This recipe makes a lot of pancakes, enough for at least four adults. I make the full batch and freeze half. Don't be alarmed by the quantity of butter - use highest quality, you don't have to butter the pan before cooking, and also remember fat is now good for you. (

Blue cornmeal pancakes
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature. Serve with berries and syrup for breakfast, or cut out the sugar & vanilla and add in 3/4 cup corn kernels and serve them with sausages for dinner

1 1/4 cup blue cornmeal
3/4 white spelt flour (or all-purpose)
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl whisk together the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl whisk together the wet ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, and combine with just a few quick strokes of the whisk. Preheat a griddle or fry pan over medium or medium-low. Pour pancakes by 1/4 cupfuls, flip when bubbles form on the top then cook through in the other side. This batter is particularly sensitive to temperature changes, it might take a few batches for you to get the griddle temperature just right for the perfect pancake.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Buckwheat Brownies

I'm pretty sure I have at least two brownie recipes on this blog already (yup, one and two), and one already purports to be the "best." I am overfond of using hyperbolic phrases, but this time round, I swear to you, I have perfected the brownie. This is the best brownie ever.

Now, there is all kinds of debate about brownies and what qualities are best found in one. I am of the camp that believes brownies should be fudgy. Cakey brownies aren't really brownies - they're cake! (This was an especially troubling topic for me in England, where all the farmers market bakers have a "brownie" that they swear is amazing but is really just dry, flat cake. I would try to explain to them what a "real" brownie is but I think it was always lost in translation.)

We just returned from two weeks in Maine with my mother, and since I had a big kitchen to work with, the sea air as inspiration, and free babysitting, I baked almost every day. And it was in Maine that I finally baked the best brownies. All who have tasted agree, except my husband, who feels brownies should be cakey. (I feel he should reconsider ever saying that to me again.)

In addition to being the perfect, fudgey brownie, this is also a GLUTEN FREE brownie. I already knew that using cake flour was ideal, but this time round I felt like using what I had on hand. Buckwheat is just as fine a flour as cake flour so the texture is the same, plus it imparts a wonderful nutty flavor as well.

Only one caveat to this recipe. I think part of the success has to do with the ingredients. Definitely use Baker's brand chocolate, and use the highest quality butter and eggs you can find. I discovered Kate's butter while in Maine and it was a revolutionary, almost religious, experience. (My freezer is now stocked with it.) But Cabot makes a good butter too, and lots of other small-scale local businesses do too. And never use old butter. Butter has a way of picking up the odors of other things in your fridge, so freshest is best, or freeze until you need to use it.

Happy fudgey brownie baking!

Best Brownies (really)
based loosely on Baker's One-Bowl Brownie recipe

1 stick unsalted highest-quality butter
4 oz unsweetened baking chocolate (preferably Baker's)
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking pan (I prefer glass.)

Melt the butter and chocolate in a big glass bowl in 30-second intervals in the microwave. Stir in the sugar and vanilla and mixed until combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the flour and salt until just combined. Stir in the walnuts.

Pour batter into pan and smooth top. Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, until they are just set. Do not overbake! They might still look under-done and a tester will NOT come out clean.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Spelt poppyseed muffins with lemon glaze

Maybe it's just because I'm pregnant and have reached the stage where baked goods are not only irresistible but positively essential to my mental health, but these muffins are the best I have made in as long as I can remember. I'm sure the copious scoopings of sour cream have something to do with it, and the lemon glaze absolutely factors into the irresistiblity equation. But I'd also like to think that the heavy proportion of very-very-good-for-you poppy seeds (think nutritionally-equivalent-to but not-as-hip-as chia seeds) has a lot to do with it.

Make these and see how long they last in your kitchen. Our batch of 16 large muffins lasted two days. Everyone, the toddler included, loved them.

Lemon-glazed Poppyseed Muffins
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and Williams-Sonoma Muffins

These muffins taste best the day after - the flavors have time to develop and the sour cream keeps them moist. Also, you'll need the zest of two lemons but the juice from only one. Make lemonade.

1 cup spelt flour (or all purpose)
1/2 cup whole grain spelt flour (or whole-wheat)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup Poppy seeds
Zest of one medium lemon

For glaze
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of one medium lemon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and butter standard muffin tins.

In a medium bowl stir and toss together the flour, poppyseeds, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. In a large bowl whisk together the sour cream, egg and sugars. Fold in the flour mixture till just combined.

Spoon 1/4 cupfuls into the prepared muffins tins. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out with moist crumbs, about 15 minutes.

While muffins bake, make glaze. Combine all glaze ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. When muffins have cooled 3 minutes in pan, remove to a wire rack and let cool completely, then apply glaze with a brush or the back of a spoon.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Vegan Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bars

I miss London a lot. I love Park Slope and all, but our life in London was - except for the lack of family - pretty perfect. Gage and I had tons of mommy and baby friends in our area of Belsize Park, all other ex-pats. We had two regular play groups per week, at least one baby dinner, and many impromptu playdates with tea and cake. Our flat was as sunny as a London flat can possibly be, with a big kitchen where I loved to cook and bake, and Gage liked to help. We had a reliable, friendly cleaner who also babysat for us. We had an amazing weekly farmers market just out our front door, where I bought fresh vegetables and bread and fish every week. We were walking distance from the amazing London Zoo, where we had a membership and went at least once every other week. We were walking distance from two amazing parks, and toddler-walking-distance from a playground. We were also just 2 minutes from the Jubilee line - the clean, efficient, runs-every-2-minutes Tube would take us to central London in just 15 minutes, if we so wished to immerse ourselves in ancient culture, high tea or high fashion. (Well, Topshop is about as "high" as I would go but you get the idea.)

In our area we had a few nice pubs. There is just no adequate social/cultural American equivalent to the pub, and I won't even attempt to describe it's importance to English society here, but Sunday afternoons at the pub became a welcomed ritual in our expat life. Belsize Park is a beautiful, leafy, bit of suburbia just 20 minutes outside of bustling central London. Oh and did I mention that they have the best online grocery delivery imaginable? 1 hour delivery slots, free delivery with delivery pass, every imaginable gourmet and otherwise product available, including wine and beer and household goods! Ocado, how I do miss you. Oh, and like Park Slope, babies everywhere.

When I think of all that I get so very sad. I miss it so much, particularly my friends. On the other hand, we were so blessed to have been able to live there at all, and to have had the opportunity to befriend so many wonderful people. One of those people is Cory, who gave us some Pumpkin bars the day before we left for good, so that we could have something to eat on the plane. Gage and I gobbled up every last bite while Chris was napping on the plane, and it made me feel temporarily better (although I felt at the time like I was leaving home, and not returning.) Thanks again for those bittersweet bars Cory, and here's my updated version of them. I know they are a bit autumnal for the summery weather you're having over there, but here on the east coast it snowed again this morning. Who knew I would end up missing London weather too??

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bars

adapted from Monique of Ambitious Kitchen

To make these truly vegan use vegan chocolate chips, and for true gluten-free use gluten-free oat flour.

Oat flour is available at most specialty markets (I used Arrowhead Mills brand) but you can also make your own by putting 3 cups of oats into your food processor and processing until it looks like flour.

2 cups oat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons chia seeds, or flax seeds (optional - good source of omega-3)
2/3 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place oat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in a large bowl and whisk together until well combined.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining ingredients (except for the chocolate chips) together until well blended. Make a well in the dry ingredient mixture and dump in the blended pumpkin mixture. Stir until just combined, then fold in the chocolate chips.

Grease a 9' x 9' pan generously with coconut oil. Pour in the batter and spread evenly. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out with moist crumbs. As always, do not overbake!!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Baking Seashells (aka Madelines)

This is a winter that doesn't seem to want to end. Normally, that is my definition of a PERFECT winter. But, the collective city whine of "won't it ever end" seems to have gotten to me. Or to be more frank with myself, it's the omg can it just get warm enough to go to the playground because if I have to play one more minute of thomas the tank engine I'm going to pull out my blooming hair! that's gotten to me, and I, too, am wishing for winter's end.

Spring would be so lovely right now. Warm breeze, light jackets, no mittens and little daffodil buds: I eagerly await your arrival.

But for now, I will imitate summer and bake some seashells. These seashells are best on cold afternoons, dipped in milky sweet tea, and savored as only something that is more-butter-than-anything-else can be. Summer is far away friends, and buttery treats await.

These are relatively time-consuming. They require special equipment. And, please, don't even THINK about using salted butter, inferior-quality butter, or old butter. Fresh, fragrant, top-notch, room-temperature, UNsalted butter only please. You'll be doing yourself and your madelines a grand injustice if not. Also, use cake flour, please. Not all-purpose. Now, given all those restrictions, should you still bother to make these? Absolutely. You'll want winter to never leave, just so you can make these every day.

Madelines *

Adapted from The Joy Of Cooking

makes about 20 little cakes

1 1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces, plus more for buttering the molds
3 large eggs, at room temperature**
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

special equipment needed: madeline pan, and sifter

*I almost rechristened the recipe Seashell Cakes, but then they would have lost the association with Proust, and that just won't do
**bring eggs to room temperature quickly by placing them unbroken in a bowl of very warm water

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together over a small bowl placed on a plate. Put sifter on plate and pour flour mixture back into the sifter. Place aside.

Mash and beat the butter in a medium bowl with a wooden mixing spoon (or spatula) until it is the consistency of mayonnaise. If necessary, place the bowl in a larger bowl of hot water to warm the bowl and hasten the softening of the butter. (This is especially necessary if your house is colder than 70 degrees.)

In a large bowl with a hand mixer (or in a standing mixer) beat the eggs, the yolk, the sugar and the vanilla on high until thick and pale yellow in color (about 2 - 5 minutes.) Then sift the flour mixture over the egg mixture bit by bit, folding in and fully incorporating as you go, until all the flour is sifted in. Take your time sifting it in.

Next, fold a dollop of the egg/flour mixture into the butter, combine it, then scrape all the butter mixture into the egg/flour mixture. Fold together until well combined (but don't over stir.) Let rest at least 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours, before baking.

Before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Using melted butter, brush the madeline molds. Then dollop on the batter into each mold, so it looks about 3/4 full. (This isn't pourable batter so a little guesswork is necessary.) Bake until the cakes are golden on the top and golden brown around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Immediately loosen each cake and unmold on rack to cool. If necessary, wipe the molds clean and let cool, rebutter them, and bake with remaining batter.

If you have any leftovers, make sure you store them in tupperware and eat them within two days.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Chili and coffee braised short ribs

We had some friends over last Saturday for a "fancy dinner party with a toddler" - which, as the quotes imply, is a complete oxymoron - nothing remains fancy when there is a toddler in the equation. However it turned out that the toddler was not the one we needed to worry about! 

Troublesome guests aside, the food itself was - if I may say so myself - outstanding. We started out with an absolute TO DIE FOR pairing of wine and cheese. Nettle meadow farms triple creme Kunik, and an evervesent slightly tangy and crisp Italian white called Ca' de Noci. The latter I'll take no credit for - it was a recommendation from the amazing guys at my local wine store. But man do they know their stuff - this wine was great and you should get your hands on some, and some Kunik - or your local version of a goat-milk pungent and ripe triple creme. Bacchus himself could not have thought up a better combination. Try it!

The main course was grass-fed beef short ribs braised for four hours with coffee, chili and red wine, served over a bright purée of carrot and rutabaga. I got both recipes from the great compilation of recipes put together by Amanda Hesser from the NYTimes archives, The Essential NYTimes Cookbook.These two recipes were huge hits, especially the ribs. I highly recommend using grass fed beef if you can find it (I got mine at whole foods and it is worth the extra price). I used 10 large ribs and had to use a 10-quart Dutch oven and 1.5 times the liquid. If you are doing 4-6 large you should be okay with a 6-quart and the liquid specified in the recipe. 
I served the ribs with a Spanish 100% Tempranillo. I had been tempted to buy a zin or a Bordeaux but the wine guys said the spice would kill the body. And the Tempranillo worked splendidly - so I think they were right on!

Short Ribs with Coffee and Chili

I used 2 pasilla chilies and 1/4 teaspoon dried chipotle powder instead of the whole chili and 1.5 times the amount of liquid and the ribs were just mildly - very pleasantly - spicy

2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
4 large or 8 small beef short ribs
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 dried pasilla chile (also known as chili negro), stemmed, seeded and minced
1 dried chipotle chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
Pinch of sugar
1 cup strong coffee
1 cup dry red wine (I used a nice cotes du rhone, a Zinfandel works well too, don't use it unless you'd drink it!)

Drizzle oil into a large Dutch oven and, working in batches, brown the ribs well on all sides over medium heat. Take your time and season the ribs with salt and pepper while you cook. Remove them from the pot.
Turn the heat to low. Add the carrot, onion, garlic, sugar and chilies to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, about 15 minutes.
Turn the heat to high and add the wine and coffee. Boil until reduced by about half. Return ribs to the pot and cook covered on low on the stovetop, or in a 300 degree oven, until the meat is very very tender and falls easily off all bones - about 2 or 3 hours - longer if the bones are bigger. Allow plenty of time for braising! Serve atop creamy polenta, and/or golden winter purée (recipe below.)

Golden winter purée

A lot of recipes tell you to peel carrots when you don't really have to - here you really do need to.
Also I used a food mill and was very pleased with the end consistency.
The original recipe says this serves 10, but if you use it like I do, as a substitute for a starch, it only serves 4-6.

1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 lb rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large firm but ripe pear, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch cubes
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 

Bring 4 quarts of salted water to boil in a a large heavy pot. Add the vegetables and pear and summer until they are tender enough to be pierced easily with a fork, about 25 minutes. Drain.
Purée the vegetables and pear in a food processor (or pass through a food mill twice.) Put the mixture back in the cooking pot and stir in the butter in small pieces, then stir in the cream, ginger and nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Everyday spelt pancakes

I have been looking for a pancake recipe that is as simple and delicious as my go-to waffles. I have a whole, varied arsenal of great pancake recipes which I rotate on a regular basis (carrot cake, zucchini, buckwheat, buttermilk, cornmeal, lemon ricotta). One might even call me a pancake queen. But my royal retinue is only now finally complete - with the addition of this most simple recipe. It requires minimal ingredients, minimal effort, and is the perfect thing to make for yourself, your family, or any visiting royalty.

Spelt pancakes
Adapted from a NYTimes recipe featured in Amanda Hesser's NYTimes cookbook

2 large eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
1 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cup spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar

Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl until light and foamy. Whisk in the oil, butter, vanilla and milk. 
In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and sugar.
Dump the flour mixture into the egg mixture and whisk until just combined.
Heat a griddle or frypan on medium heat. Pour pancakes by 1/4 cupful (use the 1/4 cup measurer you used for the flour) onto the hot pan. Flip when bubbles appear on top, and cook on the other side until just cooked through.
Serve immediately with maple syrup, and butter if desired.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Baked Eggs with Spinach and Tomato

Here is a super-easy, but also rather elegant, recipe to brighten up your next brunch.

I usually dislike recipes written in this way, where the ingredients are per serving, and not per what you actually will need for x number of people. However, this recipe, written this way, is delightfully simple. If you are unsure of quantities for the number of ramekins you need, just double-buy! It is never a bad thing to have extra Boursin laying about. (But just in case, for 10 ramekins, I used one entire box of Boursin.)

This is not a recipe that makes me wax nostalgic about childhood dinners, or want to pack immediately for cooking school. It is just simply one I think is too good and too easy not to share. Enjoy this new trick up your sleeve.

Baked Eggs with Spinach and  Tomato
adapted from Southern Living

This easy recipe makes as many baked egg cups as you would like to serve. (I'd count on 2 or 3 per person depending on what else you are serving.)

Preheat oven to 350.
Butter x number of 6 - 8 oz oven-safe ramekin.
In each ramekin layer the following ingredients in the order listed:

1 tablespoon Boursin garlic cheese spread
8 fresh baby spinach leaves, torn
1 large egg
2 tablespoons homemade, or high-quality jarred marinara sauce
1 tablespoon heavy cream or half-and-half

Place your desired number of ramekins on a baking sheet, dust each one with some freshly ground pepper and place in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes, or until the egg has reached your desired doneness.