It’s Raining

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It’s raining outside. A slow, miserable drizzle. To say the weather reflects a human’s mood or has human qualities (“miserable”) is what we literary-buffs like to call a “pathetic fallacy.” Literary Analysts observe this. Creative Writers often shun it as a cliche. But today it is appropriate. I am miserable. I’ve had a nasty cold for two days. I’m facing massive anxiety over some recent life choices of mine. And this. What we all woke up to today. My heart is too heavy to even write about it except to say that it must be nice. It must be nice for all of you who backed you-know-who that you enjoy such privilege as to be unaffected by his hateful rhetoric, unthreatened by his proposed policies, and unshaken by what this means for our country. I wish I had such privilege. I know that this is a cooking blog, but it is also a blog about my life. About our lives, Mr. Foodie’s and mine. And this is not how I thought we’d start our married life together. We face the loss of affordable health insurance which Mr. Foodie desperately needs because of his asthma. We face the overt discrimination that will become more and more common because Mr. Foodie (and soon I will join him) carries an Arab surname. And like all millennials, we face increasing costs for living without corresponding increases in pay. We face starting a family in a world where I might lose control of decisions concerning my reproductive health. And we continue to face the xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, abelist, heteronormative, hateful rhetoric that has dominated this election cycle, but worse – because soon it will stop being rhetoric and become our new reality. I don’t even care if I lose some readers (or friends, or family) because of this post. I have to say what I’m saying. This is my life. This is our lives. And it’s fucking raining.

Oh yeah, and I made some new cookies yesterday.

 

Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom: Review

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It might seem odd to derive much pleasure from reading cookbooks, but for me nothing (not even trolling Pinterest and watching cooking shows) gives me as much pleasure as leisurely flipping though a new (or old) cookbook. As part of my continuing education and immersion in all things cooking, I’ve picked up new cookbooks from the library as well as food memoirs which are always a treat. Many cookbooks nowadays are streamlined with large format, stylized, glorious pictures of the dishes and simple instructions. It was not always so. Many a cook has faced exasperation over trying to replicate an older recipe with often little more than a list of ingredients with questionable measurements. For example, there was a time in early American cooking when “a cup” meant pretty much whatever type of cup the cook had on hand at the time. The recipe might have contained as little information as “flour, sugar, eggs, seasonings. Bake for an hour.” How maddening! But this is, in part, because cooking was more often taught from one cook to another in person and not learned from a book.

In Julia Child’s Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom published in 2000, she doesn’t hesitate to give precise instructions while still allowing ample room for variations. I just loved combing through this book because it was less about presenting a set of specific recipes and more about approaching cooking as a discipline. I would go so far as to say that this should be first on your list if you ever want to learn how to cook as opposed to just follow a recipe. I remember when I was first learning, I would read “braise the meat” and think “umm, what does braise mean?” Thankfully I live in the age of the internet because I can not only find an answer to that question quickly, but also watch a youtube video of braising. In Julia’s collection of kitchen wisdom, however, she takes the time to define the different verbs used throughout the book. Additionally, she’ll provide the basic ingredients for a number of variations on a simple dish (like salad dressing) so you can see that the method remains the same and that salad dressing is really just a specific ratio of oil, vinegar, acid, and seasoning. The idea is to provide a depth of understanding and transparency that is often lacking in many cookbooks.

Reading even these short paragraphs of instruction will make you love Julia more and more. Her casual, encouraging tone is helpful without being condescending – the tone of a great teacher. I have the added benefit of having read her letters to her dear friend Avis, so by now Julia feels like a dear friend of mine. I thought I might get tired of her after a while, but reading this collection of kitchen wisdom makes me feel like I would have loved to learn from her and cook with her.

Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom is a small volume, perfect for the beginner cook in your life. Consider adding this his/her stocking this year and you won’t be sorry!

Earlier, I also took a look at The Working Class Foodies Cookbook and Provence 1970 (not a cookbook, but a narrative of expat American chefs including Julia).

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Favorite Things Friday

When I started this blog, I had Mailbox Mondays because the FL Keys residents had such adorable mailboxes to photograph. I have yet to discover a photo-based replacement for the mailboxes in my new home, but I discovered that I enjoyed sharing my #favoritethings every Friday on Instagram. Remember that Sound of Music Song? “These are a few of my favorite things…” I still sing it in the shower sometimes. Anyway, a wonderful consequence of talking about cooking and writing about cooking is that my family and friends give me interesting and beautiful food/drink-related objects. Just looking at them gives me enormous pleasure.

These #favoritethings also reflect my approach to cooking and entertaining. I am generally not a fan of unitasker kitchen equipment. In many cases, a good set of knives and some basic knife skills can replace mounds of gadgets. That’s not to say that I don’t own and enjoy some whimsical things the purpose of which is very narrow, but still fun. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to recognize the value and beauty of well-crafted things.

This week I want to share a #favoritething that I use fairly often – my deviled egg platter. While you can put deviled eggs on any old platter, it is safest to use a platter designed to hold those slippery little rounds in place. This one doubles as a souvenir from my one and only trip to Cancun for my brother’s wedding. This might surprise you, but most of my souvenirs from traveling are cooking-related, although I do have some purely decorative pieces that dress up my bookshelves. This platter doesn’t have a middle section for holding more eggs, but I just love the jaunty little chicken in the middle.

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What are some of your favorite things?

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Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

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My ideal Saturday mornings consist of taking a little time (maybe an hour or two) to flip on the Food Network, drink my coffee, and scroll through Pinterest. Even though I do these things separately throughout the week, there’s nothing like the slow, quiet luxury of doing them all at once for an our or two on Saturday morning. This past weekend I drifted across a pin on stuffed acorn squash. I immediately thought of my mother. Growing up, we always had the same squat, beige toaster oven on the counter top. Besides toast, the only things I ever saw my mother pop into it were store-bought, frozen mini-pies and acorn squashes that she cut herself. The preparation was minimal – salt, pepper, and a pat of butter, but she LOVED that acorn squash. Whereas many people might cook it with brown sugar or marshmallows, my mother liked to make squash savory instead of sweet – a preference I carry with me to this day.

Though the recipe on Pinterest was a vegetarian one, I decided it would be exquisite with some crumbled sausage. I like mild Italian sausage because a little goes a long way. I can buy one pack of sausages, remove what I need from the casing and save the rest to add to soup, sprinkle into mac n cheese, etc. It is versatile, and the heat from the seasonings pairs well with any rich dish.

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Acorn Squash is fairly easy to prep. Slice open each gourd, scoop out the seeds and strings, and then slice a little off the round side of each half so that they won’t tip over when flesh-side up. Rub the flesh with oil (or spray) and season liberally with salt (and pepper if desired). Recipes differ on the time and temperature for roasting acorn squash, but one thing they almost all suggest is to line your baking sheet with tin foil and place the squash flesh-side down. Some recipes suggest 400 degrees; others 375 – base this on how hot your oven usually gets. Mine runs hot, so I chose 375. The cooking time varies also, but that probably has to do with the size of your squashes and the temperature of your oven. Bank on something between 30 minutes and an hour. I ended up taking mine out at 45 minutes at 375. They are done when the flesh can be pierced easily with a fork.

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For the filling, I cooked up 1 lb of mild Italian sausage (you could cook less, but then you might want to add another veggie component like mushrooms or kale or grain like quinoa so you’ll have enough stuffing). I put the sausage aside and used the pan to cook down small diced onions and garlic. I combined these and stuffed the roasted acorn squash halves with them. I topped each one with Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, and a small pat of butter (you could substitute a drizzle of oil for butter if you like). Then I broiled it for 2 minutes to melt the cheese and butter. The beauty of this recipe is that you can stuff the acorn squashes with whatever you like or have on hand. After tasting my version, Mr. Foodie and I decided it would have been absolutely perfect if we had added a few diced tomatoes to stuffing for a little acid and sweetness. Even without the tomatoes, the squash was rich and filling. The heat of the sausage paired well with the creamy flesh of the acorn squash. The cheese and bread topping added texture and a nutty bite.

Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

3 Acorn Squashes, cut in half

Olive Oil, salt, and pepper

1 lb mild Italian sausage, removed from casing

1 small diced onion

2 cloves minced garlic

1-2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese

Bread Crumbs for topping

1-2 Tbsp butter for topping

Preheat oven to 375 (or 400) and line baking sheet with tin foil. Oil prepped Acorn Squash Halves and season liberally with salt and pepper. Place flesh-side down on lined baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes to an hour. They are done when flesh is easily pierced with a fork. In the meantime, cook up the sausage, crumbling with a wooden spoon. Set aside and use the pan to cook the diced onion and garlic until softened. Mix the onions and sausage together for stuffing. Fill each roasted acorn squash half with sausage mixture. Top all with Parmesan, sprinkle of bread crumbs, and pat of butter. Broil for 2 minutes to melt butter and cheese. Enjoy!

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Bread Knots v. Dinner Rolls

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Mr. Foodie grabbed a yeast packet out of the pantry and I looked up curiously from my computer. “Pretzels?” I asked. You might remember that we recently landed on a perfect soft pretzel recipe after many trials and errors, but it had a been a few weeks since Mr. Foodie had baked anything let alone something that required yeast. “No, let’s do bread rolls!” I used to be intimidated by bread (and still am when it comes to looking at/drooling over artisan breads I’d love to try), but Mr. Foodie just goes for it. That’s not to say he doesn’t have majorly mixed results sometimes, but instead of agonizing over the details of recipe for weeks before getting his hands dirty (like me), he just begins.

In this case, he piggy-backed off of this Soft Dinner Rolls Recipe by Beth. My first comment as I was looking over his shoulder was that the recipe was designed for a bread machine, so it did not say how long to let it rise, etc. Oh well, a fairly standard approach is to let it rise “until it has doubled in size.” My second remark, following a gasp of realization, was that I had used the last of the eggs for our breakfast and this recipe called for one. I am far from an expert on bread, or rolls, but every soft dinner roll recipe I’ve ever seen calls for at least one egg. Mr. Foodie pressed on nonetheless, substituting some veggie oil. I remained dubious.

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Because he didn’t have the egg, the texture of the dough was off, preventing him from cutting out the soft rounds that eventually bake into the soft dinner rolls. Instead he rolled them out (like Pretzels!) and tied them into knots. Et voila! Not-so-soft Bread Knots, as we came to call them. Because of the missing egg, they definitely lacked the airiness of dinner rolls, but the bread came out flakey and soft anyway. Because we did not flavor the dough or top with melted butter as the recipe suggested, the flavor was neutral. But we took care of that by topping the rolls with a pat of butter and drizzle of our farmer’s market honey.

While this recipe could not, perhaps, be characterized as a success, I wanted to share it with you anyway because sometimes I am a little too rigid in my baking and cooking. I (sometimes) won’t even try if I don’t have all the ingredients, or the time to do each and every step in the recipe as instructed. This prevents me from not only taking risks, but from learning – something I love to do. It was because of this recipe that I learned what gives a soft dinner roll its characteristic texture and flavor (ours were slightly sweet as most dinner rolls are, but lacked the browned tops that come from brushing with melted butter). And we still ended up with tasty bread knots that prompted the use of the farmer’s market honey we have (something I hadn’t even tasted properly up to that point). Not to mention the joy I get from cooking and baking with Mr. Foodie no matter how it turns out.

If you’re anything like me, you get too crestfallen when a recipe fails, too wary of new recipes you haven’t studied or practiced for weeks, or too timid to just wing it. While there is value in studying method and using the tried-and-true recipe of a chef, this is no way to grow in the kitchen.

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I challenge you to try something radically new (for you) in the kitchen this week! And since it is National #pieweek – consider making your own pie dough using my easy recipe. Don’t have shortening on hand? No problem, substitute with butter (or vice versa). As long as you have flour and some kind of fat on hand, homemade pie dough is within your grasp. Or try your hand at Pretzels (since we already did the work for you of finding a great and easy recipe). Or a focaccia-style bread recipe (great for beginner bread-makers!).

If you do push yourself this week, let us know! We’d love to hear from you.

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Tricks and Treats: Halloween Eats Part 2

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Halloween holds a special place in my heart. When I was young, my dad, who was handy and creative, really got into the spirit with decorating our house. I loved the dressing up, the camaraderie with neighbors, and, of course, the candy. I was lucky enough to live in neighborhoods where there were massive groups of kids and parents roaming from one house to the next with hardly a dark porch in sight. Ever since moving to the East coast, however, it never has been quite the same. These days, we’re lucky if we get even two trick-or-treaters coming to our door and I live in a packed multi-family subdivision! My parents’ house is a bit better, but last year was the thinnest for adorable costumed kiddos I’ve ever seen. Perhaps it is a natural progression. Neighborhoods age out of trick-or-treating. But even so, I was fairly disappointed that I didn’t get to see more costumes. To distract myself I (naturally) started some baking/cooking projects that I hadn’t planned on (I even decided to skip “cooking” dinner and go french picnic style, imagining I’d be too busy opening the door and handing out candy to want to cook). So I checked the pantry/fridge and noticed we still had some frosting left over from our Purple People Eater Cupcakes, and, though I lacked chocolate chips, I had cocoa powder. So I decided to make Gail Dickinson’s Chocolate Sugar Cookies which reminded me a lot of my grandma’s Ginger Molasses Cookies.

My twist? Using the leftover buttercream frosting to make spider webs! Basically you just pipe circles on the cookie and use a toothpick to run through, making the webs. Or you can frost lines across the circles (I did both with mixed results). Let me tell you, these cookies are freaking delicious. They don’t suffer for lack of chocolate chips or other garnish. They are richly chocolate flavored without being overly sweet. I give these my hearty stamp of approval!

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Mr. Foodie and I also carved our one mid-sized pumpkin. We attempted to make one of those complicated scenes from the carving kit, but gave up half way through and just carved a proper Jack-o-Lantern. As I was cleaning out the pumpkin, I went back and forth on whether I wanted to keep the seeds. The frugal cook in me was like “keep them!” but the lazy person in me was like “it is too much work getting the seeds ready!” In the end I spent a few minutes looking at ways to help simplify the process of de-pulping the seeds and settled on the warm water/salt version which only takes a few minutes. It worked well. I dried them on paper towels which had the unfortunate side effect of having the seeds get stuck to the towel, but I got them loose and then baked them for 20 minutes. Then I squeezed lemon juice over all, shook with some cayenne pepper and salt, and baked for 10 minutes more at 350. They are delicious. In the end, I was happy I kept the seeds. They kept my hands busy while I was trying to summon more trick-or-treaters to my door with my mind.

Once I resigned myself to the fact that the only trick-or-treaters I’d see that night was one cute witch and one even cuter baby bumble-bee, I relaxed and contentedly watched a series of Halloween movies with Mr. Foodie while sipping on leftover cider-rum from the party. Now the only question is what to do with all this leftover candy?

Chocolate Sugar Cookies (by Gail Dikinson)

1 Cup Butter, softened

1 3/4 Cup Brown Sugar

2 Eggs

1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

1 Tsp Baking Soda

1 Tsp Salt

3/4 Cup Cocoa Powder

2 Cups Flour

White sugar for coating

Preheat the oven to 350. Cream the butter and brown sugar together. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla extract. Mix together dry ingredients and add slowly to wet mixture (to prevent a cloud of cocoa/flour ending up in your face and all over the counter). Once it is combined and dough comes together, use a spoon or ice cream scoop to make balls 2-3 inches depending on your preference. Coat each ball in white sugar, set on lined baking sheet. Bake each sheet for 9-10 minutes until tops crack a little. Cool on rack and frost with webs if desired (also great without frosting).

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