Sunday, November 22, 2009

hold the whiz

Continuing the recent "away for the weekend" pattern, I found myself across another bridge (the Benjamin Franklin Bridge) to Philadelphia this weekend to run the half-marathon. It was my second Philly half and third Philly race (I did the full marathon years ago) and it continues to be one of my favorites in the country. I haven't traveled for many "destination" runs (New Year's resolution '10 to fix that) but true to the slogan "the city of brotherly love," Philly welcomes race participants with arms wide each year. We got lucky with perfect weather, and after a successful finish, two free massages, and a wash-the-salt-off shower at the Ritz Carlton, my friend and I gobbled chicken cheesesteaks (without whiz, but equally delish) and hit the road back to New York.

A couple things to note about the NJ turnpike/I-95:
1. Drivers are crazy, fast, and treat the 'pike like a NASCAR video game course
2. New Jerseyans who stop at rest stops have death wishes and will ALL walk in front of your car to test your reaction time
3. There are no logical signs to get you to where you want to go, so you'll probably have to use one of the inconvenient "u-turns" to get back on track
4. The Lincoln Tunnel helix sucks. Period.

In fact, I was so stressed out from driving when I got back to my FREEZING COLD apartment that there was only one logical answer: I had to bake... to warm my place, of course.

And what sounded like a good stress reliever? A comfort sweet.

So I poked around my near-empty fridge and then unpacked my race gear only to find the banana that the Ritz gave to us in a "marathon goodie bag" (so posh of them) when we checked in on Saturday. Armed with the race souvenir fruit and a hankering, I found a Martha Stewart recipe that has answered all of my single-banana moments for the future (and yes, they happen often).

Martha says that this recipe marries two classics, but I'm going to go ahead and say that if a banana bread knocked up a chocolate chip cookie, out would pop these little suckers. Boy, are they tasty! Soft and chewy on the inside, firm enough on the outside to form little cookie pillows of banana/chocolate/oat goodness.

Now if only I'd done the full marathon to justify eating the whole batch ;)

Banana-Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Martha Stewart Living

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour (I used all-purpose)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar (I used dark-brown)
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 large)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
8 oz. semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, chopped in a blender)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 F. Whisk together flours, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl; set aside. Put butter and sugars into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low Add egg and vanilla; mix until combined. Mix in banana. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Stir in oats, chocolate chunks, and walnuts.

Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown and just set, 12-13 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks; let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers for up to 2 days.

Monday, November 16, 2009

a baking ode

I think Tony Bennett might have been on to something. This past weekend marked my last trip "out west" for the year, and after 6 hours without complimentary food (really, American??), limited movie choices, and a pair of long legs cramped into a grouchy shape, I found myself looking at 3 days in sunny and wonderful San Francisco. It's my firm belief that this town can do no wrong. Ever since my first business trip 5 years ago, the hilly streets, azure bay, and crooked houses have reached across the country to pull me west as often as possible. And after each trip, I'm convinced - I'm in love.

I'm in love with the friendly runner who smiled and said "good morning" to my squinted face as I passed her blinded by sunlight along the Embarcadero on Sunday morning.

I'm in love with the coffee, oh the coffee! Peet's, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf... shoot, even Starbucks tastes better "out there." I could drink a Peet's vanilla soy latte with its perfect froth for days with no other sustenance but a Coffee Bean Mocha Ice Blended for dessert. To. Die.

I'm in love with the one-way streets that drove me in circles and incited many horn-honks from the natives (and maybe a scratch on my rental car) but also lead me to neighborhoods I'd never seen with row houses in every color and surprising hints of green.

I'm in love with the food. There isn't another North American town more foodie-infused outside of New York. With chef's like Daniel Patterson, Michael Tusk and rising star Jessica Boncutter (I'll get to Bar Jules next trip) the food is top notch. Chez Panisse - nuff said.

I'm most ardently in love with California wine country. I think one of the most genuinely happy memories of my life was winding through Sonoma on a warm spring night with the convertible top down, wind in my hair, and nothing but Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel in my belly. And with fields of grapes only an hour from the city, restaurant wine lists are relevant, timely, and always perfectly paired.

I'm in love with the views from every neighborhood. From the top of Russian Hill. From Crissy Field. From Grace Cathedral. From the mighty Golden Gate herself. It's a city that looks good from almost any angle, and she's got a bunch of them on the 7 x 7mile hilly landscape.

I know (somehow I just know - do you ever feel that way about a place?) that I'll end up out there to explore the wild west - it might even be my next adventure. So as much as I love New York, this is my baking ode to San Francisco:

SF is famous for lots of things - earthquakes, fog, and fresh/locally sourced produce among them - but instead of re-creating the incredible fennel and arugula salad from dinner at Beretta last Saturday night (how can something so simple be so good??), I decided to use one of San Francisco's most known attractions outside of Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz as inspiration for a Thanksgiving Potluck dinner this week - Ghirardelli Chocolate.

This tart is easy to make and looks amazing when it's done. And, the San Francisco chocolate melted so easily for me that I'll take it as a sign that maybe, just maybe... My love waits there in San Francisco / Above the blue and windy sea / (and) When I come home to you, San Francisco / Your golden sun will shine for me.

Chocolate-Glazed Chocolate Tart

For crust:
9 chocolate graham crackers, finely ground (1 cup) - I used chocolate Teddy Grahams
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

For filling:
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
9 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped - I used Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Baking Bar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt

For glaze:
2 tbsp. heavy cream
1 3/4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped - I used Ghirardelli "Twilight Delight" 72% Cacao
1 tsp. light corn syrup
1 tbsp. warm water

Make crust:
Preheat oven to 350 F with rack in the middle. Stir together all ingredients and press evenly onto bottom and 3/4 inch up side of 9-inch round fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Bake until firm, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack 15-20 minutes.

Make filling:
Bring cream to a boil, then pour over chocolate in a bowl and let stand 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth. Whisk together eggs, vanilla, and salt in another bowl, then stir into melted chocolate. Pour filling into cooled crust. Bake until filling is set about 3 inches from edge but center is still wobbly, 20-25 minutes. (Center will continue to set as tart cools.) Completely cool in pan on rack, about 1 hour.

Make glaze:
Bring cream to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in chocolate until smooth. Stir in corn syrup, then warm water. Pour glaze onto tart, then tilt and rotate tart so glaze coats top evenly. Let stand until glaze is set, about 1 hour.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

birthday, with love

Among the many "life lessons" they don't teach in college -- how to pay bills, how to not run up your credit card, how to make rent each month, how to give a great interview, how to gracefully survive a break up, how to dress designer without weekly visits to Saks, etc. -- is one that surpasses all the rest in navigational difficulty: how to make new best friends.

It seems elementary -- in Kindergarten, we shared legos; in middle school, we passed notes; in college, we held each others hair back and BAM! Friends were formed in an instant. After college, in the midst of figuring out all the "real world's" demands, most of us found ourselves alone and stumbling, missing our "BFF" college buddies who scattered in every direction after graduation.

The truth is, it's tough to make friends when you're a grown up. If your first job's office isn't full of "kids" your age, the options are pretty limited. I remember missing my girlfriends so much my first year in the city, that I saw a girl at the gym a few days in a row who matched my pace on the spinning bike and played over in my head how to ask her to see a movie or take a trip to Bloomies (I never actually did).

So it was to my absolute delight when I landed at a job a magazine where the majority of the staff was my age. They were even lovely people, and they liked drinking wine as much as I did (oh, DID they)! Even though I've now moved on and out of their glass tower, they are some of my favorite people and best girlfriends in New York.

Today was one of their birthday's, and I can't wait to let the wine flow and celebrate with her tomorrow. I thought this week about what I could give to show her how much I've appreciated her friendship. It's this lady's 11-month old son who has solely convinced me that I want kids eventually (, and her love and support in the past year has meant the world to me. So, after considering standard birthday gifts like dangly earrings and Borders gift cards, I decided to do what I do best: cookies, with love.

I found this recipe on and even though I could have gone with something fabulously chic from Neiman Marcus, hopefully my cookie treats will wish this very lovely lady a happy day.

Happy Birthday, Melanie!

(p.s. there's a cute story about the name of the cookies here)

Neiman Marcus Cookies
First published in Saveur in Issue #97

2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups oatmeal, processed in blender to a fine powder (such a cool idea for cookie texture! Love. It.)
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups walnuts, chopped
4 oz. Hershey's chocolate, grated (I left this out)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars together in a large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and eggs and beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Add oatmeal, flour baking powder, baking soda, and salt and beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Stir in chocolate chips, walnuts, and chocolate.

Roll dough into 1 1/2" balls and place 2" apart on large baking sheets. Bake until light golden but still soft in the middle, 10-12 minutes. Transfer cookies to rack and let cool.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

swirling happiness

This weekend I witnessed one of the sweetest things a person can (aside from childbirth, maybe). It's the moment when the double doors of the church open, the bride and her father square their shoulders and step forward down the aisle toward her future and her waiting groom. It's that moment when her eyes lift to his, when her smile widens into a grin she can't help but keep for the rest of her walk. It's her father's eyes watering, her feet fighting her heart's urge to run toward the alter, and the piercing stillness around her as we all look on - staring like Peeping Tom's into this private exchange between a couple in love.

I cry at this moment in the wedding every time. Every time. This year I cried at my friend Sarah's wedding, my friend Dave's wedding, even at two weddings where I didn't even know the bride. And this past weekend, I cried at my friend Elizabeth's wedding, because that moment is one of the sweetest and most pure I can think of.

I caught up on some magazine reading during my flight home from Cinci-tucky and Food & Wine's piece on favorite new dessert cookbooks stood out sweetly as a first kiss. The Nutella-Swirl Pound Cake was the winner (I blame growing up in Germany for my nutty sweet tooth), and after unpacking from the weekend, I pulled my standing mixer out for a little Sunday night baking.

I've struggled with pound cakes in the past - they're always too dry and crumbly or... too dry and crumbly. But this cake from Lauren Chattman's Cake Keeper Cakes popped out of the loaf pan easily and is perfectly moist and deliciously swirled with chocolately goodness. It might not be as sweet as Elizabeth and Kelby's first married kiss, but it will satisfy us single gal's in a pinch.

Nutella-Swirl Pound Cake
Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman by way of Food & Wine

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
One 13-ounce jar Nutella

Preheat oven to 325 F. Lightly grease and flour a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan, tapping out any excess flour. In a glass measuring cup, lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla. In a medium bowl, whisk the 1 1/2 cups flour with the baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer (I used my KitchenAid standing mixer with a paddle attachment), beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer at medium-low speed, gradually beat in the egg mixture until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, beating at low speed between additions until just incorporated. Continue to beat for 30 seconds longer.

Spread one-third of the batter in the prepared pan, then spread half of the Nutella on top. Repeat with another third of the batter and the remaining Nutella. Top with the remaining batter. Lightly swirl the Nutella into the batter with a butter knife. Do not overmix (I was worried about overmixing, so I didn't swirl enough, make sure to get your swirl going!).

Bake the cake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, turn it right side up and let cool completely, about 2 hours. Cut the cake into slices and serve.

Note: Chattman recommends serving with coffee ice cream and I think that would be absolutely heavenly.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"to be awake is to be alive"

It's a double-edged sword to look at a calendar and realize that you have no free weekends for the next month. On one hand, you've got a lot going on, which means little boredom and even less time alone. But on the other hand, it means less time alone and even less time to breathe. This past weekend I was staring that busy calendar in the face, but it wasn't until the middle of a (brutal, but gorgeous... but still brutal) 10-mile mountain run at the Gunks when I (literally) couldn't catch my breath that I let the weight of my world sink in.

In the next bit I'll be in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, San Francisco, and Philadelphia, before settling into a couple slow days of slow food and good football in Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving. I'm excited for every part - can't wait to see old friends, spend some time on the "best coast," and get into my Mom's kitchen to mix our old family recipes with a few from my favorite November issues: Brussels Sprout Slaw with Mustard Dressing and Maple-Glazed Pecans from Bon Appetit; Bacon, Onion and Rye Bread Stuffing from Food & Wine; and Black Bottom Pecan Pie from Saveur. Mouth. Watering.

There's a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks, but stopping to breathe hard at Copes Lookout on Sunday snatched me back to the present (and my aching calves) and made me grateful for the quick upstate weekend getaway before the madness begins.

What I'm starting to realize about myself is that "packing it all in" isn't the key to happiness. At least not to mine. There's a truth to the saying "less is more" and it's going to be a 2010 resolution to manage my schedule a bit better. My boss actually schedules time on her work calendar for herself, so that no one can schedule into her own time to think, to work, to just be present... and I'm thinking it's a good model. We're just all so busy, and it seems that we're competing for a medal in "doing it all without having a nervous breakdown." The truth is, we all DO break down once in a while - whether in the form of a monthly pre-menstrual cry that my friend Ben is convinced all women have (he could be on to something), or a late night call to a best friend "just to vent," or a 10pm baking session that leads to pure disaster. Sometimes you just need those little moments to settle into yourself and remember to breathe.

So instead of sharing my stressful Monday night apple/carrot/raisin/total-disaster-in-a-loaf-pan, here are some images from my Thoreau-inspired weekend up state.

We went to Saugerties, NY in search of a Lighthouse I'd seen in a magazine.

We made it to here before the trail was covered by high tide, so we only got a peek.

We took in the last of the pretty fall leaves and breathed their wet, past-prime smell.

We stopped to take pictures of crimson red in the wet underbrush.

We went to Jenkins and Lueken Orchards for apple cider doughnuts and couldn't figure out what we'd do with these funny gourds.

We contemplated life, Walden Pond-style.

We ate delicious brussels sprouts for Halloween dinner that we didn't have to prepare for ourselves. (Thanks Shannon!)

And then we left it all behind at the end of the weekend to head back to the busy city life we know.

There, that was better than explaining why my carrot-apple bread ended up in the trash amid a heap of Monday night frustration. I'm back from LA/OH on Sunday, but until then -- please try to enjoy the serenity of fall's quick visit. It will be gone too soon, so make one of my many apple recipes before all you have left of my favorite season is a peck of gone-soft apples in the fridge.
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