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Friday, November 13, 2009

pumpkin swirl brownies

pumpkin swirl brownies

There are two week until Thanksgiving. Two. Short. Weeks. And as tradition would have it, I’m hosting again. And though, it’s my favorite holiday, you know how much I’ve thought about the menu? As in, sat down, really thought about it, without getting distracted or bogged down by work? Um, let’s just say I’ve been way better prepared in the past years. As in months before my menu was finalized and set. And this time? Well, I’m still mulling it over. Two. Weeks. Before. Can you sense the slight panic in my voice? So tonight, I’m sitting down with a pad of paper, a stack of books and magazines and finalizing it all. I will be well-prepared this year. I just have to keep saying it to myself over and over until I’m fully organized for the holiday.

pumpkin swirl browniespumpkin swirl brownies

Every year, I bring back a few dishes that have gathered a loyal following: the porcini mushroom soup – my favorite soup as a child; and the pumpkin bread pudding souffle (please ignore ugly pictures, this is an amazing dish!), inspired by the incredible Charlie Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco. Part souffle, part bread pudding, it wins new fans every Thanksgiving at my table. And this time of year I’m a little pumpkin obsessed – I’ve even snuck them into cupcakes. And seeing pumpkins at farmers’ markets makes my heart sing – the beautiful spread of orange cheers me up on a cold, gray autumn morning. I can’t help but smile to myself when I see them – so bright and cheery! And when I take walks in my neighborhood, coffee in hand, my camera dangling at my side, looking at all the brownstones with their pumpkins and harvest wreaths – I think it’s moments like these that I fall in love with the Northeast, and New York, in particular, a little more every time, realizing that despite the cold winters, short daylight hours and more layers of clothing than sounds reasonable, this is my home. This chilly, rainy, short-on-parking-space city is my home. The thought of living elsewhere makes my heart ache.

pumpkin swirl brownies

This is the season where I tend to do a lot of walking in my neighborhood. Every Saturday, in fact, before I head over to the farmers’ market, I take a walk around the brownstones, sipping coffee, taking pictures, watching dogs chase pigeons. And after my walk and market visit, I come home, my bags overflowing with produce. Lately, there have been lots of squash, apples and pears in my bag. And pumpkin. I cannot resist pumpkin, try as I might. Just putting it as my dining table centerpiece cheers up my whole apartment.

pumpkin swirl brownies

Roasting pumpkins is incredibly easy and rewarding. And while, it’s easy enough to pop open a can of it at home (when you didn’t plan ahead, which often happens to me), if you have a little extra time on hand, and want to fill your home with the most comforting, delicious smell – you should give it a go. An hour at 400 Farhenheit or so (check online as I tend to just sort of eye my roasting time) and you have fantastic, soft, freshly-roasted pumpkin. I have to restrain myself from eating it right away armed with a spoon, a little butter and some fleur de sel.

pumpkin swirl brownies

But I’m not here to tell you about eating roasted pumpkins, delicious though they may be. I’m here about these swirly, pretty brownies here. More like a pumpkin chocolate coffee cake (since when do we complain chocolate?) they are tremendous. I mean, tremendous. Moderately sweet, moist, and chocolatey, they are really perfect to have on hand the morning after Thanksgiving. When the turkey somnolence has not worn off and you can barely even put a pot of coffee on, these will revive you back to normalcy. In fact, I have visions of myself, dirty dishes in the sink (because I am not washing them the same night, no way no how) coffee in one hand, this brownie in another sitting on my couch in pajamas while my father has an argument with himself about politics and my mother tries to get me to start cleaning. In fact, the prospect of eating these the morning after turkey day, takes all the anxiety away about not being adequately prepared. In fact, I’m even looking forward to it. And it makes two weeks seem like a very long time away, indeed.

pumpkin swirl brownies

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

classic almond biscotti

classic "nonna's" biscotti

The trouble with homemade care packages you mail out – is that most homemade treats have a limited shelf-life. Cookies – three days or so, granola – loses its crispness if not refrigerated, cupcakes – can’t quite ship them without compromising their shape as the frosting gets in the way. I’ve always wondered what do people send as care packages, and do they send it overnight, or on ice? Needless to say, I’m not the most ingenious person out there, so if I’ve failed to think of obvious solutions, please leave a comment and let me know your suggestions.

before pulverizing mixing the batter
thick classic "nonna's" biscotti

And yet, there I was, trying to think of a treat for my friend, Katy (who designed Sassy Radish and made it so pretty!), who was working on her master’s thesis at RISD while battling an interminable nasty cold. Apparently, there was this cough she couldn’t shake, and congestion that was persistent and relentless. Poor Katy couldn’t even smell her morning coffee – and if there’s anyone other who lover her coffee, it’s Katy. I felt for her – I wanted to help somehow, but short of sending decongestants (which aren’t all that exciting – I mean, who looks forward to receiving decongestants in the mail?) I couldn’t think of much that might survive a few days of shipping.

classic "nonna's" biscotti

So after thinking about the short shelf life of perishable goods, I discovered what I call a “care-package loophole”, and that loophole is biscotti! Originally eaten by Roman legions – the word originates from the Latin word biscoctum, which means “twice baked”. They were twice baked, in fact, so that they could be easily stored for long periods of time, say for long journey and battles. You wonder where I dig up this wealth of useless knowledge – and I say to you proudly, middle school Latin class complete with a Latin Feast at the end of every year! And in case you’re wondering, cooking Roman food was by far my favorite part of the class curriculum. Today, biscotti are probably some of the most definitive Italian baked treats and are really easy to make. I liked this recipe because the author who contributed it for the January issue of Gourmet, got it from his Italian grandmother so this was the real deal.

classic "nonna's" biscotti

In fact, the recipe’s notes highlighted that these “biscuits” will get better the day after baking, so the flavors will only improve! A baked good that improves with age and goes perfectly with coffee – if this isn’t a perfect care-package material, I don’t know what is!

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

homemade oreos

homemade oreos

When we arrived to America, I was quick in growing to love American traditions and foods and general popular culture. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with great zeal and often dreamt (and still do) of pizza. Hamburgers and French fries, chicken nuggets and fish sticks, potato chips and chocolate chip cookies, sweet potato and broccoli, Fourth of July clambakes and Thanksgiving turkeys – I embraced it all as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I forced these unknown traditions on my parents, arguing with them, a bold and foolish teenager that I was, that these were the new ways of the world, and that we had to let go of our old world traditions because they were archaic that no one, besides my parents and their Russian friends, understood. I was eager to assimilate and become truly, completely, wholly American. If it was American – I loved it blindly and unequivocally.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

the “baked” brownies – spiced-up

the most amazing bite

There is a reason that this post is devoid of any great shots of stacks of brownies or brownies on a plate with a glass of milk. I had a bit of a photography snafu with these at I’m entirely at fault here. You see, when you cook in a small, counter-deficient kitchen and you lack grace (my friends know I do), things sometimes fall, often making a mess, often changing their intended shape from the impact of the fall. Sometimes, I have to make a new batch of that something it winds up in a pile of crumbs all over my kitchen floor. A freshly washed kitchen floor, mind you.

spicy browniesspicy brownies

And so with such fabulous coordination such as mine, I was about to take pictures of these brownies perfectly cut in carefully measured (with a ruler!) squares, when I turned to grab my camera and heard a loud crash. And as luck would have it, I had no time to make a second batch of these, and was dashing out to cook more food at a Super Bowl party Paul and Sharon (my newly engaged, cake-decorating-kit-giving friends) were hosting. I looked down to where the baking dish had fallen and was both relieved and aghast – the brownies, magically fallen in such a way that nothing, but a few loose crumbs fell out onto the floor. Everything was still inside the baking dish. But. Oh, but of course there’s a “but”. The perfect squares were no more. Instead, they were erratic shapes of brownies looking like random displaced countries cut out from a map.

At this point, I had to make do with what I had. I packed them as best as I could and took them with me to Brooklyn. They were dubbed as the world’s best tasting ugliest brownies. And you know what? We loved them just fine.

spicy brownies

Now, a word about these brownies. These are from the Baked cookbook I’ve made the peanut butter chocolate bars from and the Sweet and Salty Cake, and no, the Baked folks aren’t asking me to sing their cookbook praises, but I can’t help myself. First, the cookbook is excellent and features recipes I’m itching to make. And secondly, I don’t have that many dessert cookbooks, or cook books to begin with, at this point in time. And finally, I’ve had such luck with recipes in this book, I’m itching to try a dozen others!

But these brownies are serious business – deep, dark, bitter chocolate is a fantastic thing in and of itself. But if you add a little heat to it, I think the chocolate flavor becomes more complex and lingers on your palate longer. It elevates the brownie to a very sophisticated treat and while I’m always an advocate for presentation – you’ll love them no matter what they look like!

spicy brownies

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Monday, December 29, 2008

lemon-cream sandwich cookies

lemon-cream sandwich cookies

Okay, I know the holidays are over and you are probably thinking about New Year’s resolutions and one of them, undoubtedly is to eat healthier, which probably means fewer sweets and cookies, and I’m so sorry for steering you in the wrong direction, but you have to understand (and pardon this horribly run-on sentence!) – these cookies are worth it! And just look at them – aren’t they aglow with a party spirit that would just be perfect for say, a New Year’s soiree?

zestmaking the paste
lemon juicepouring the sugar

I won’t lie to you – these took quite a bit of time, and quite a bit of cursing, and me vowing that no-way-no-how were these cookies ever worth the effort I was putting into them. What with having to tweak the recipe that suggested I use two (that’s 2!!!) cups of confectioner’s sugar for ½ cup of butter (can you say painfully sweet?) – I had to modify it, of course. And if you doubt one part of the recipe, you start questioning the rest of it. What if these cookies were inedible? Bland? What if the whole recipe is botched?

flattened, temperamental dough

And later, when the dough refused to cooperate, I started doubting the recipe even more. The dough was most temperamental – giving me a four degree window in which is was pliable and also hard enough for the cookie cut-outs to be transferred to the baking sheet without losing their shape.

And finally, the mere fact that I got not 24 cookies as the recipe suggests but 48 instead – made me wonder if any of this was worth the time I was putting into it – and I was too far along to abandon the project – which turned out to be lucky for me. Because it was worth the trouble.

holesnot quite perfect circles

Because, when I bit into my first cookie, my knees grew weak, my heart beat faster, and I had to take a deep breath. These might be my most favorite cookies ever. And yes, without a doubt, they were worth the effort and the time! A resounding yes across the board.

I brought them to work, where they were dubbed as “lemon crack” after which, they quickly vanished. And I had a little competition from Crumbs cupcakes which we had in the pantry today. My cookies – almost all gone (that with the office being practically empty) and Crumbs – all but two cupcakes remained when I left for the day.

lemon-cream sandwich cookies

The bottom line is this – if the picture above doesn’t entice you to make them, I don’t know what will. But I can tell you they are stunning, amazing, delicious and worth every minute of your time. And pretty too! Don’t they look festive and dressed up? Like they’re ready for a party? And wouldn’t a lemon-cream cookie be a perfect complement to your New Year’s champagne? And doesn’t anything lemon-flavored just kind of makes you want to smile and feel giddy? Because if it does, like it does for me, what better way to ring in a New Year than with a joyous grin on your face? It might just set the mood for a 2009 and we can certainly use a celebratory year, no?

lemon-cream sandwich cookies

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Monday, December 15, 2008

chocolate hazelnut crinkle cookies

chocolate hazelnut crinkle cookies

I don’t know about you, but as disciplined and balanced an eater as I am, I can’t stay away from Nutella. It is my one weakness, my kryptonite. I could, in all honesty, much have a pretty awesome evening with a book, a jar of Nutella and a spoon. Forget bread, as it just gets in the way. And if you think I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect, here’s a small confession, I’ve been known to go through a complete jar of Nutella from start to finish in one sitting. Yes, I have that little will-power. Hazelnut chocolate – I just can’t quit you!

toasted hazelnuts

So you would think I’d be wise enough not to make chocolate hazelnut crinkle cookies; cookies that bring hazelnuts and chocolate together. You’d think I would have enough common sense to know early on this was a very bad idea indeed. You’d think I would see the impending doom coming. Instead, I ignored every scrap of common sense and made the cookies anyway.

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