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Trick or Treat, the cookie version

November 3, 2011

I have neither a good picture of my Halloween costume, nor a good picture of a cookie sandwich I put together as a grown-up version of trick or treating.

One of my favorite sweet-salty combinations is candy corn and pretzels. I was still pondering how to bake with that combo when my boss handed me a cookbook with a recipe for candy frosting, and that was that.

I worked the pretzel in by making a compost cookie. I did not put in any sweet elements, because I knew the filling in my compost cookie sandwiches was going to be really, really sweet. Instead, I added a cup and a half each of crushed potato chips and crushed pretzels. I used a 2-teaspoon scoop, and baked them up.

For the filling, I mixed probably 2-3 cups of whole candy corn into a batch of classic buttercream frosting. The combination was delicious, if I do say so myself: crunchy, slightly salty cookie with creamy sweet and festive filling. I will definitely be coming back to this one next year!

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Menus

July 24, 2011

It is a truth universally acknowledged that two Friedland women, faced with the prospect of a relaxing weekend, must be in want of a project.

And so it was that, last night, my mother and I set about planning parties.

The first will be the open house I’ve had for the last few years for the Chicago Air & Water Show. We’ve decided to show uncharacteristic restraint in the menu this year; last year’s featured two bries en croute, this year’s will have none. I’m ok with that.

What we are going all out on, however, is cookies. And really, is there a better medium for excess than desserts? We’re planning to make citrus cookies (airplane-shaped, naturally) and white chocolate pistachio cookies and at least one something with chocolate and maybe an oatmeal cookie as well. And life is good.

Then there’s the beach day we’re planning for my office. Thus far, we have no sweets at all on the menu, but I’m sure that will change shortly!

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Alinea!

July 20, 2010

“I want to have dinner at Alinea. Would you like to come?” my mother asked (presumably rhetorically) out of the blue a few months ago.

I know I’m no restaurant critic (and I have no desire to be one, at this point), but some friends insisted I talk about this one.

What an experience! The building is unmarked, grey, with the shades drawn. The only thing that says “Alinea” is the valet parking sign. Once the doors open, though, you’re quite sure you’re in the right place.

We walked down a red hallway with a sloping ceiling, giving it kind of an Alice in Wonderland effect. A door whooshed open just at the right moment, and the hostess knew exactly who we were and where we were going. Absolutely seamless.

Alinea does not take parties larger than 6, and they will not break a party of 8 into two tables. So my cousins went on a date night a few days before the rest of the gang: my mom, brothers, aunt and uncle. We were seated at a large round table by the window, and the service was absolutely impeccable. About halfway through the meal, we noticed that the servers had noticed that my brother is left-handed. They were placing his silverware at a different angle on the little pillow they used as a “tablecloth” for each of us, so that it was easier to pick up with his left hand!

The sommelier was both a character and really knowledgeable. They had a Lucien Crochet rosé—the same vineyard that bottled the white Sancerre we drank at Le Clos de la Violette in Aix five years ago—but, alas, they had just sold the last glass. The sommelier (who also acted as a waiter? Not sure what his title is) gave me a taste of something else and I ended up ordering an Austrian sparkling wine that was delightful.

Ok, you’re saying, enough about the set-up—tell us about the food! Everything was amazing. Although a lot of it was transformed through culinary wizardry, other ingredients were just incredibly pure versions of themselves: wonderfully tomato-ey tomatoes, tremendously lamb-y lamb, etc.

The first course was a pretty good indication that we were in for a treat. The menu says “English peas, iberico, sherry, honeydew.” What it means is: some kind of concoction that, on first bite, tasted like the best frozen pea I’ve ever had—I used to eat them straight from the freezer when I was little—with little capsules of sherry that burst on your tongue, burrata, a little ball of honeydew (that we mistook for a grape) and several other unidentifiable delicious things. The whole dish was startlingly cold (liquid nitrogen?) but melted pretty much immediately into creamy deliciousness.

“Lobster, lychee, gruyère, vanilla fragrance” turned out to be a definite highlight of the evening: a single incredible bite of something fried, skewered on a vanilla bean and served into a fantastical wire holder. The incredibly light tempura contained a succulent piece of lobster, melty gruyère, lychee (somewhere) and a hint of ginger, and the vanilla bean gave the whole thing a delicate scent. It definitely left us all wanting more. Imagine how great/insane it would be to buy the cookbook and curl up in front of the TV with a whole basket of these on a movie night! (OK, never happening…I don’t even know if that recipe is in the cookbook, for starters.)

“Tomatoes, pillow of fresh cut grass aroma” was also amazing. There were a variety of powders (red pepper, bread crumbs, Parmesan, tiny bits of balsamic onions) to accompany the heirloom tomatoes, with little fried things on top. Absolutely the best tomatoes I’ve had this summer, never mind the stuff that came with it! My brother, who disliked tomatoes violently for most of his life, said this was one of his favorite dishes of the evening.

After that, we were all presented with a lovely glass of a clear liquid that turned out to be a “distillation of Thai flavors”—salty cucumber and a whole bunch of other things that lingered on the palate to “prime” it for “pork belly, curry, cucumber, lime.” We made spring rolls, fashioned from the pretty rice paper centerpieces (there were flowers and herbs in the paper, and they were hanging from chopsticks for the early part of our meal). I’m not a fan of either coconut or curry, but once I tasted the pork belly that was cooked in those flavors, I stopped caring exactly what I was being served and just ate.

“King crab, rhubarb, lilac, fennel” was a three-part course in a lovely bespoke ceramic piece. On top, there was a chervil gelée with some buttermilk and lilac sorbet surrounded by a crab mousse. When the lid came off, there were three perfect little bites of crab, avocado and rhubarb with a mung bean salad and other delicious bits. Under that was a warm crab and rhubarb concoction in a cream sauce—amazing.

“Lamb, a reflection of Elysian Fields Farm” honors a supplier dating back to Chef Achatz’s days with Thomas Keller. The plate consisted of the best lamb I’ve ever had: a small bite folded onto a sprig of rosemary, with a creamy popcorn sauce and a tiny bite of breaded polenta that burst with butter and corn flavors. Oh, and panko-crusted, deep-fried saddle fat from the lamb, which is both brilliant and evil.

“Hot potato, cold potato, black truffle, butter” was another big favorite of mine. The dish arrived in a tiny wax bowl, with a number of items including a cube of butter and a potato ball topped with a generous slice of truffle skewered on a pin. We were instructed to pull the pin out of the bowl to drop the skewered items into the sauce below it, which turned out to be a chilled, rich truffled potato soup. We were instructed to eat it quickly—no hardship, as the dish was creamy and indulgent and delicious.

Following that, the table was reset with antique flatware and an ornate goblet. “Tournedo à la persane” is an Escoffier recipe, as it turns out: a piece of extraordinarily good meat on top of a grilled tomato (with a tiny basil leaf), a fried banana slice and a pepper stuffed with rice, all in a perfect Châteaubriand sauce. I can’t say I’ve ever eaten beef with banana before, and it’s a great combination. The dish was served with a bit of Callet wine (or housemade soda), which was a great pairing.

From here, we entered the realm of dessert. “Earl Grey, lemon, pine nut, caramelized white chocolate” didn’t look like a dessert at all: hunks of grey tea cookies, yellow frozen chocolate noodles, scoops of lemon curd that looked like egg yolks, and crisp candied pine nuts. Fantastic all around!

“Chocolate, coconut, menthol, hyssop” contained one of our favorite elements and one of our least favorite elements. The former would be a frozen chocolate mousse that had us all giggling on our first bite. It melted into a traditional mousse texture—really fun to eat, and tasty to boot! The latter would be the menthol, which was just too strong for us. I made the mistake of drinking the last of my sparking wine with the menthol, and it was an awful lot like swilling Robitussin.

Rounding out the evening was another dish that had us all giggling as we ate it: “Bubble gum, long pepper, hibiscus, crème fraîche” arrived horizontally in a hollow glass tube. We sucked it out of the tube (making unavoidable gross noises in the process) and the darned thing tasted just like bubble gum! Whatever the pink stuff was had tapioca balls, so you even ended up chewing it for a little while.

And there you have it—a complete roundup of our evening at Alinea. Truly memorable. I’m so glad we went!

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Blueberry Loaf

July 11, 2010

It’s become a family tradition: we pick blueberries, we make jam, we bake, and life is good. This year is no exception.

I made another Blueberry Pie, which was beautiful. (It disappeared before I had a chance to confirm my suspicions about its flavor, but based on the anecdotal evidence, that was one fine pie!)

We’ve also been making loads and loads of blueberry loaves. I began by making muffins for some friends who were driving cross-country, but we quickly discovered that this recipe makes a mean loaf—caky, moist, studded with blueberries and topped with just the right amount of streusel (read: a lot!). The batch that’s currently making the house smell so very good is #5 in the last week or so. Did I mention that life is good?

Blueberry Loaf
adapted from Epicurious.com

You’ll need:
For batter
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk
1 whole large egg
1 large yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh blueberries (12 oz)

For streusel
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
cinnamon to taste (I put in enough to make the streusel change color)

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 375°F. Generously spray two loaf pans with nonstick spray.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over moderately low heat, then remove from heat. Whisk in milk, then whisk in whole egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined well. Set aside.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Rub together all streusel ingredients in a bowl with your fingertips until crumbly. Set aside.

Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined, then gently fold in the blueberries.

Pour batter into loaf pans and top with streusel. Bake until a tester comes out clean. (Start testing after 25 minutes.)

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Cinnamon Rolls!

May 22, 2010

Way back in fifth grade, long before I knew I was interested in food writing, we had to write an essay for English class describing a personal expertise. I wrote about being an expert at loving cinnamon.

In the ensuing years, I’ve dumped McCormick for the freshly-ground Korintje variety from the Spice House, but my passion for cinnamon endures. You may have noticed that it’s a common theme in the recipes I’ve posted here.

So when I saw an episode of “Good Eats” featuring a recipe that didn’t require getting up at the crack of dawn, I began looking for an excuse to try my hand at one of the purest forms of cinnamon adoration: the breakfast baked good. I mean, it’s a hell of a way to start a day, right? The only problem: I’m one person, and the recipe makes a dozen sinful rolls.

A few weekends ago, I had some friends over for the weekend, and I decided that enough is enough. Even though there were only 3 of us, I made the darned cinnamon rolls. A girl can only wait so long! It worked out perfectly–I, the night owl, did the prep the night before, and my friends, who are morning people, took care of the final rise and the actual baking and frosting. Talk about teamwork.

The verdict? They were everything I hoped they would be. Truly things of beauty–and delicious, too. I could have eaten all 12 by myself, but showed uncharacteristic restraint.

I believe the only change we made to the original recipe was to double the cinnamon content. (In my household, a teaspoon means a tablespoon when cinnamon is involved!)

One of these days, I really should see if that essay is with my school papers.

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
adapted from Alton Brown’s original masterpiece

You’ll need:
Dough:
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 large whole egg, room temperature
2 ounces sugar, approximately 1/4 cup
3 ounces butter, melted, approximately 6 tablespoons
6 ounces buttermilk, room temperature
20 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 cups, plus additional for dusting
1 package instant dry yeast, approximately 2 1/4 teaspoons
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
Vegetable oil or cooking spray

Filling:
8 ounces light brown sugar, approximately 1 cup packed
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
3/4-ounce unsalted butter, melted, approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons

Icing:
2 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened, approximately 1/4 cup
3 tablespoons milk
5 1/2 ounces powdered sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups

For the dough: in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add approximately 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; whisk until moistened and combined. Remove the whisk attachment and replace with a dough hook. Add all but 3/4 cup of the remaining flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Check the consistency of the dough, add more flour if necessary; the dough should feel soft and moist but not sticky. Knead on low speed 5 minutes more or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand about 30 seconds. Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, cover and let double in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until well incorporated. Set aside until ready to use.

Butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently shape the dough into a rectangle with the long side nearest you. Roll into an 18 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with the 3/4-ounce of melted butter, leaving 1/2-inch border along the top edge. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border along the top edge; gently press the filling into the dough. Beginning with the long edge nearest you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal and roll the cylinder seam side down. Very gently squeeze the cylinder to create even thickness. Using a serrated knife, slice the cylinder into 1 1/2-inch rolls; yielding 12 rolls. Arrange rolls cut side down in the baking dish; cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 16 hours.

Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and place in an oven that is turned off. Fill a shallow pan 2/3-full of boiling water and set on the rack below the rolls. Close the oven door and let the rolls rise until they look slightly puffy; approximately 30 minutes. Remove the rolls and the shallow pan of water from the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

When the oven is ready, place the rolls on the middle rack and bake until golden brown, or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, approximately 30 minutes.

While the rolls are cooling slightly, make the icing by whisking the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Sift in the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Spread over the rolls and serve immediately.

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Non-Kosher, non-vegetarian cookies

March 30, 2010

Some ideas turn out pretty well, regardless of how twisted they sound at the beginning. Like, for instance, these oatmeal cookies with cinnamon chips plus a hefty dose of this candied bacon. (Credit here must go to my mother, who suggested the cinnamon oatmeal cookies in place of the chocolate chip options I had been considering.)

Aren’t they beautiful? These were for a friend who, upon tasting Candied Bacon Ice Cream, began dancing around my living room. He and his girlfriend were packing up their apartment this weekend, and I thought they might need some fuel. The “Zach has a happy” cookie was born. (Ok, and I really wanted to see if bacon cookies had potential. Turns out, the dancing is not limited to bacon in frozen form.)

I made the following changes to the recipe:

  • First, I omitted a 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar in the cookie dough, because the bacon is sweet.
  • As to the bacon, I unintentionally cooked it a bit less than I would have liked and, in hindsight, I’m glad I did. The fat was still soft and chewy, but it crisped up beautifully when baked with the cookies.
  • To combine bacon and baked good: I chopped the bacon as I would for the ice cream. After I had scooped the cookies onto the baking sheet, I pressed a nice dollop (say, a four-fingered pinch) of bacon bits into each cookie.

I think my cookie scoop is larger than my mother’s, so I’d estimate I had enough bacon for 2-3 dozen cookies. I left a dozen cookies plain for the vegetarians in the crowd. Oddly, the bacon cookies tasted even better the next day than they did straight out of the oven.

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Eating like a Queen

March 17, 2010

Fewer things are more satisfying than sitting down to a fine meal that you’ve cooked yourself, from scratch. You might even sneak your cell phone out of your bag to take a surreptitious, lo-res photo of your lunch at work.

In my defense, that there is tuna salad (one of the first things I ever learned to make by myself) on homemade bread. I finally got around to trying to “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” recipe my mother clipped from the newspaper for me while I lived in France. It took me five years to try making this bread, and I don’t know why. It’s quite easy, and very good. It didn’t rise as much as I thought it would, but that ended up making it perfect sandwich bread. I just sliced the loaf in half like a roll.

Next to it is homemade corn chowder, from a recipe that popped up in my blog feed a while back. It is very easily, not too sinful, and really satisfying. Certainly the best (well, and only) use for frozen corn kernels I’ve ever encountered.

In addition to that flurry of cooking, I indulged in some baking. After all, who wouldn’t want to celebrate a holiday that combines nerdy wordplay with baked goods?

I spend a lot of time at work reading food blogs (it’s part of my job, really!), and Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie has been popping up with increasing frequency. None of the descriptions adequately explained the popularity of a sweet that contains neither chocolate nor cinnamon. I just had to taste it for myself. Enter Pi Day, the ultimate excuse to bake.

It was really quite easy to make, though the cookie crust is an extra step. The pie is magnificent—sweet, gooey, buttery, vanilla-y, and yes, almost impossible to accurately describe. A palpable hit, and a recipe that I will definitely make again—provided that I have several people on hand to help me eat it. I have thus far avoided having partially-eaten pies in my refrigerator overnight, and at 20-odd grams of fat per slice, it needs to stay that way. (Oh, LA Times, why did you have to include the nutritional information? In cases like this, I prefer blissful ignorance.)

And the requisite blurry cell phone cross-section, because I was too busy eating and trying to sneak leftovers into my friends’ pockets to photograph at home:

In short, last weekend was great. I could very happily spend every weekend making two different soups (the other one wasn’t as good), homemade bread, and insane desserts.

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