Monday, March 29, 2010

i have a problem: chocolate chunkers

When you are so utterly exhausted that you're falling asleep at your desk at work and yet feel the absolute need to bake a batch of cookies when you get home (and take a 10 minute nap beforehand in order to regain the strength you need to mix, drop and bake) you know there's a problem. A baking problem.

I went straight to the place that many go to take charge of their addiction, and with a few keystrokes created a method for Bakers Anonymous that boils down to the following:
  • Admitting that one cannot control one's addiction or compulsion to baking
  • Recognizing a greater power that can give you the strength not to eat all of the dough before you bake it
  • Examining past errors with the help of co-worker cookie testers
  • Making amends for these errors by adapting the recipes until they're perfect
  • Learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior
  • Helping other bakers that suffer from the same addictions or compulsions
Unfortunately for me and my general Monday weariness, I didn't realize this method until a batch of Dorie Greenspan's Chocolate Chunkers were baking away in my oven. I got to help bake a batch of these during my Friday with Dorie (read: chopping a few pounds of salted cashews, dried cherries, milk chocolate chips and bittersweet chocolate), and I looooved how my apartment smelled tonight -- just like the industrial kitchen in Queens last month.

These are serious cookies, chocolatey enough to satisfy the biggest chocoholic, and I love that you can make these your own with whichever mix-ins you crave. I went with the combination from the CookieBar and used Guittard Extra Dark Chocolate Chips for the first time (where have they been all my life?).

You guys gotta make these. Save the intervention for another day :)

Chocolate Chunkers
Adapted by Dorie Greenspan from Baking: From My Home To Yours

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 large eggs, at room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into chunks, or 1 cup store-bought chocolate chips or chunks

6 ounces premium-quality milk or white chocolate, chopped into chunks, or 1 cup store-bought chocolate chips

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped nuts, preferably salted peanuts or toasted pecans

1 cup moist, plump raisins or finely chopped moist, plump dried apricots

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Add the butter, bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate and heat, stirring occasionally, just until melted -- the chocolate and butter should be smooth and shiny but not so hot that the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the heat and set it on the counter to cool.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until they are pale and foamy. Beat in the vanilla extract, then scrape down the bowl.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the melted butter and chocolate, mixing only until incorporated. With a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl, then, on low speed, add the dry ingredients. Mix just until the dry ingredients disappear into the dough, which will be thick, smooth and shiny. Scrape down the bowl and, using the rubber spatula, mix in the semisweet and milk (or white) chocolate chunks, nuts and raisins -- you'll have more crunchies than dough at this point.

Drop the dough by generously heaping tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, leaving about an inch of space between the mounds of dough.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 10 to 12 minutes. The tops of the cookies will look a little dry but the interiors should still be soft. Remove the baking sheet and carefully, using a broad metal spatula, lift the cookies onto a cooling rack to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the remaining dough, baking only one sheet of cookies at a time and making sure to cool the baking sheets between batches.

Monday, March 22, 2010

10 minutes with a food editor

After making those Ginger Chocolate Chip Bars a few posts ago I got to thinking about recipes. I'm very good at following recipes but creating one down to the measuring spoonful of spices? I can't seem to wrap my head around how you do that. Who are these people behind the delicious recipes we see each month in our favorite magazines? I got a quick interview with Real Simple's Sara Quessenberry (the woman behind those delicious bars) to get some inside scoop:

BT: What was your path to becoming Real Simple's Food Stylist? Did you always want a career in food? What does your job entail?

SQ: Cooking has always been important in my family. My mom and grandma are both excellent cooks, and I always loved just being near them in the kitchen. So I think it's in my blood. I owned a restaurant for several years before selling it due to utter exhaustion. The magazine world was just a lucky step in the right direction and landing at Real Simple even luckier. My job entails working with the food department to come up with monthly recipes, developing and writing the recipes, and, then, often, styling them for the photographs that you see on the page.

BT: We all have our favorite recipes and cookbooks, but actually creating recipes seems like a challenge. What is your process to develop recipes? What inspires the recipes you create?

SQ: A good question. Very often a single ingredient will inspire an entire dish. It may be freshly dug new potatoes from the farmers' market that catch my eye or just a good old-fashioned hankering for something spicy and exotic, and then I go from there.

BT: What is your favorite thing to cook? To bake? Favorite childhood recipe?

SQ: A tough question. If I had all of the time in the world, I would make my own pasta. I love the process and the rhythm of it all. As far as baking, I am drawn to fruit desserts: crisps and rustic, free-form pies. Oooh, favorite childhood food memory: fried bread dough rolled in sugar

BT: Name a few NYC restaurants you love and tell us why.

SQ: Maialino, Lupa, Dell’anima, Sullivan Street Bakery. They all share a common theme: straight forward, uncomplicated really good food with attention to seasonality and casual atmospheres.

Thanks Sara! You can find her delicious recipes and mouth-watering food styling each month in the pages of Real Simple.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

corinthians 13:4-7: carrot cake

So it's been a rough few days. Earlier in the week I received news of the horribly tragic accidental death of a very young person. It was both shocking and horrifying, and my heart immediately went out to the family and friends of this beloved young man. The news stayed with me for the rest of the week and I couldn't stop thinking about how preventable and unnecessary this death was, and how fragile we all are.

Then my puppy got sick. Not I-ate-a-cigarette-butt-off-the-ground-sick but like, really sick. And after a couple days of feeling rough she was rushed to the emergency vet on Thursday night, stuck with an IV and antibiotics and kept overnight in the doggie-hospital. Yes, I freaked out. And yes, I live in NYC so it was crazy-ridiculous expensive (read: 3/4 of my paycheck).

But like most tough things, you do what you have to do. So after getting over the sticker shock, I signed the receipt at the vet and then planned my all-black outfit for the funeral the next day.

Like I said, it's been a rough week.

But, puppy got better (thank God!) and the funeral was truly as lovely as it could have been, given the circumstances. I might go so far as to say that I've never been to a more inspiring and heartfelt funeral filled with love as the one I attended on Friday. The message of the funeral translated as "live every moment" and "love as much as you can,"and though it was difficult to stand in the back of church and watch raw grief on many faces around me, it was unbelievably inspiring. It was inspiring that there was standing-room only (3-4 rows deep in some places) in the small church. It was inspiring that he had such a positive impact on so many people during his short life. It was a celebration of this very good, very young man, and a challenge for the rest of us to live every moment and love as much as possible.

It's a shame that it often takes tragedies to remind us of those simple life goals, so I'm challenging all of you to use this story as a reminder to live life and love. I'm already working on it :)

To celebrate another life, I offered to bake a birthday cake this week for a co-worker instead of the usual cupcakes in the conference room. With a few dietary restrictions I chose Alton Brown's Carrot Cake recipe and it's definitely my new go-to. It's surprisingly moist (due to the yogurt in the recipe?) and the cream cheese frosting was thicker and easier to spread than most I've made. I clearly need to take a cake-decorating class but a little extra frosting with some red food coloring did the trick this go around.

Carrot Cake
Alton Brown via the Food Network

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
6 medium carrots, medium grate
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. ground allspice (I left this out)
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
6 oz. plain yogurt
6 oz. vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan (I used two and spread the batter evenly between the two). Line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.

Put the carrots into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process for 5 seconds. Add this to the carrots and toss until they are well-coated with the flour.

In the bowl of the food processor combine the sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and yogurt.

With the processor still running, drizzle in the vegetable oil. Pour this mixture into the carrot mixture and stir until just combined. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 F and bake for another 20 minutes or until the cake reaches 205-210 F in the center.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow cake to cool 15 minutes in the pan. After 15 minutes, turn the cake out onto a rack and allow cake to cool completely. Frost with cream cheese frosting after cake has cooled completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese
2 oz. butter, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine cream cheese and butter on medium until just blended. Add the vanilla and beat until combined. With the speed on low, add the powdered sugar in 4 batches and beat until smooth between each addition.

Place the frosting in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes before using.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

feels like home [and TWD]

Maybe my last post put me in a nostalgic mood. Or maybe the Friends final episode was a re-run on TBS tonight. Or maybe it was the impromptu happy hour I had with a friend from high school (read: 2 generous pours of Old Vine Zinfandel at midtown's Capitol Grille) -- but there's something really comforting about spending time with old friends. The friends who knew (and loved) you before you discovered routine brow waxes. The friends who didn't judge you for wearing capri pants from The Limited and anything from Abercrombie & Fitch circa 1999. The friends who came over to your house after school to hang, who knew your parents, and who giggled for hours on the phone when your crush asked you to Prom.

We meet friends at every life stage, but the friends who've watched you grow up are few and very dear. You don't try to impress these friends. You don't watch your mouth with these friends. You don't change back into your work heels to meet them for a quick drink after a long Monday. And catching up with one that you haven't seen in months (or years) feels a little like coming home. I've been totally missing my fam lately, and though Miss Izzy fills the void it was really nice to leave work for "one" "quick" drink tonight and get a little home fix. Thanks, Mark :)

Coincidentally this weeks Tuesday with Dorie recipe brought me home with its chocolate/raspberry goodness. My very #1 most favorite ice cream growing up was Chocolate Raspberry Truffle from the ice cream shop near our house and the pudding-ish consistency of this tart makes the fruit and chocolate flavors meld perfectly. I used all bittersweet chocolate, left the egg white out of the tart crust (maybe not on purpose, whoops), took the sugar down to 1 tbsp., and didn't edge the crust up the sides of the pan enough. Tart crust seems to elude me and this one was far from perfect -- but still tasted great.

Thanks to Rachelle of Mommy? I'm Hungry for choosing the recipe. It's rich, but a sliver satisfies a chocolate craving instantly. For the recipe, check out page 354 of Baking: From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

10 years: ginger chocolate chip bars

10 years. A decade. Where were you a decade ago? In March 2000 I was about two months from high school graduation with an acceptance to a small liberal arts college in Ohio. I was in love with my boyfriend (we made out in the stairwell before math class!) and I had great friends and a full lunch table. I was in the middle of planning a post-grad road trip to take all of my friends to my family's beach house on the Gulf coast. And I couldn't wait for summer.

I didn't know at the time that a magazine was launching in New York that I would eventually come to love, and work for. In a post-Y2K/George Bush-elected world, it was a magazine that simplified a woman's life by offering easy solutions to her daily challenges, whether in the kitchen, in her home, or in her closet. Turns out that "real simple" lifestyle stuck, and 10 years later we're celebrating the 10th anniversary of my favorite magazine.

It's a special thing to work at a magazine. With the day-to-day meetings and conference calls and deadlines it's easy to forget, but when I stop to think that I work on a great brand at one of the country's top three publishing houses in the middle of Manhattan - a brand that touches over 10 million consumers each month - it's a pretty exciting thing. I'm thrilled to be there and happy to celebrate the magazine's 10th anniversary next month, and hope you'll join me. I'll be at both events, so let me know if you can stop by!

One really cool thing about working at a magazine is access to some of the most respected editors in the business. I found this recipe on our website and emailed Sara (the editor) to let her know how much I loved these bars. I was curious about the combination of ginger and chocolate but they turned out like a much-improved version of a chewy blondie. Give them a shot the next time you're in the mood for a bar-cookie, I'm sure you'll love them! And, of course, they're "real simple" to make.

Ginger Chocolate-Chip Bars
Real Simple, by Sara Quessenberry

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 F.

Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan and line with 2 crisscrossed pieces of parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugars, using an electric mixer, until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat to combine. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chips.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40-50 minutes. Cool completely in the pan, then cut into 32 bars.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

'tude [and TWD]

They say "attitude is everything" - I think I still have a high school gym shirt with the quote emblazoned in big black letters. But we all get beat down sometimes, and no matter the reason our attitude slips from its place on our priority list and we slump. We lose motivation and get lazy - whether in our relationships, at work, or in our social lives. It's so cyclical that sometimes I don't even notice the little downer before I'm back on top, fiery attitude blazing.

But tonight I noticed. I was so excited to get into the park after work for a long run - the weather today was positively Spring and New Yorkers couldn't help themselves but smile, even at strangers on the subway. I caught 4 people smiling at me before they realized what they were doing. This town just oozes happiness when the weather turns warmer. So I got home, laced up my Asics and high-tailed it to the park.

At about mile 3 I dipped. My pace slowed, I felt every sore muscle and, cursing the 9 beers I drank on Saturday (who am I?), my mind snapped from pleasant wandering to how much further I had to go. At the base of Central Park I rounded a corner uphill and almost ran smack dab into someone crossing the street. I looked up ready to give the intruder the stink eye and found a 70ish-year-old, white-haired, semi-stooped man hurrying out of my way. I softened my glare and then focused on his back - he wasn't stooped at all, he had a bouldering pad on his back. This old dude had just been bouldering the rocks in the park!

I turned back to the hill and decided if that guy could haul himself up boulders, then I - more than 40 years his junior - could surely run a few more miles in near-perfect weather. My head went back to my happy running place, and before I knew it I was passing runners. I thought about my great weekend with my friends. I thought about my friend who's moving out to the Bay area. I remembered a recent post by my new Bay area friend Camilla about the intoxicating and motivating effect being active has. And then I remembered how it felt to push through marathon training as a newbie runner and grit through the pain to cross the finish line. Just seeing the phrase "attitude is everything" run through my head quickened my pace and sent me uphill to the finish. I left the park grinning and singing out loud to "Happiness" by The Fray on my i-Pod (and I got a few more of those smiles I was talking about earlier).

I guess those high school gym teachers were on to something - the strength of the mind over the body is outstanding, and I don't use it enough. I'm challenging myself (and all of you!) to put it to use the next time anything (however small) seems impossible. Some people call it The Secret... I just know I like it.

I put it to use again when I got home to complete my first official Tuesdays With Dorie recipe (Look! Baking Therapy is even on the Baker blogroll!). For those that don't know, TWD started when Laurie received Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan for Christmas and "made a New Year's resolution to try to bake one recipe a week from this brilliant book." The blog is widely known and membership is exclusive, so I was delighted when I got the email that I was in (especially after meeting Dorie last month!).

Tonight I wasn't in the mood for shortbread (or jam), but I fitted my mixer with the paddle attachment anyway and got to work. Even though I firmly believe that everything is (usually) better with chocolate, these simple tea cookies are pretty perfect. Attitude is everything! With a sweet dusting of powdered sugar these are delicious... and lovely! Thanks to Mike of Ugly Food for an Ugly Dude for this weeks pick.

For the recipe, flip to page 164 of Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. If you don't have it, go get it. You need this sweet book on your bookshelf.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

little letters: buttermilk biscuits

I'm back from Utah! Didn't you just love Claire's guest post? She did such a great job and those Apple Streusel bars look divine. If you haven't visited her blog I hope you check it out - she's always sharing recipes for delicious treats.

It's been a busy week between a bittersweet flight home on Monday (so hard to end vacations!) and Jury Duty for the past two days I haven't had much time to bake, let alone blog. But after two days in a jury room I did have a lot of time to read, so this post is inspired by my friend Chelsea Griffith of Triumphs and Blunders of a Kooky Gal. Chelsea has been posting these little letters lately that make me grin wide. Here are a few of mine:

Dear Beth,
Please start stretching after your runs. I swear you'll like it.
Love always, your hamstrings

Dear Beth,
Just because you ran doesn't mean you can eat a pan of brownies guilt-free.
Maybe your blog should include more veggie recipes?
Just give it a thought, your Thighs

Dear Beth,
Don't listen to your thighs. You only live once!
Hearts! The fat kid in you

Dear Beth,
Sometimes less is more.
signed, your Twitter followers

Dear Beth,
Even though you like to think you don't need me, you know you do.
Thanks for taking me along to the office tomorrow and every morning :)
Yours, Coffee

Dear Beth,
I know you think I'm snuggling with you because I love you but really it's just cold at night. Can you turn up the heat in the apartment?
I promise I'll stop putting my butt on the pillow.
Thanks! Izzy

Dear Beth,
Read more! You like it!
- your Vocabulary

Dear Beth,
Go in the direction of your dreams.
Best, Henry David Thoreau

Dearest Beth,
Even though you had a werewolf birthday party, I know your heart belongs to me.
Forever yours, Edward Cullen

Hey Beth,
I think you nailed it - thanks to Patricia.
These biscuits would make Mamma B proud.
Love, your Memory

Last week I got a craving for buttermilk biscuits. It came out of nowhere and as I was reaching for a Pillsbury can at the grocery store my conscience kicked in and steered my hand to a half-gallon of buttermilk. I did a little searching and it was Patricia's mouth-watering photo that sold me on her recipe. Friends, these are perfect. They're layered and they peel apart and they are perfect for every meal. I ate them for dessert with apricot preserves, for breakfast with a touch of honey, and for dinner with a garden burger in the middle.

What kind of cravings do you get? Leave me a comment and inspire my next baking adventure :)

Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick (1/2 cup or 8 tbsp) butter, cold
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Mix together all of the dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles pea-sized crumbs.

Make a well in the center of the butter-flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Stir until the flour is just incorporated but the dough is sticky and loose.

Pour dough onto a floured surface and knead for 1 minute. The dough will be smooth and no longer wet (sprinkle the surface with more flour if dough is sticking).

Shape the dough into a ball, and hit it with a rolling pin, turning and folding it in half every few whacks. Do this for a couple minutes.

Roll dough until it is 1/4-inch thick and then fold it in half. Cut out your biscuits from the folded dough using a round biscuit cutter or a glass.

Place on a baking sheet lined with a silicon mat or parchment paper. Make sure the biscuits are slightly touching so that they help each other rise up instead of out.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Eat them with butter, jam, preserves, gravy or friends. Just eat them.
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