Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

It’s time for one of the biggest food blogging events of the year: The 2014 Food Blogger Cookie Swap! All around the world, food bloggers exchange holiday cookies to support the organization Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Long-time readers may remember that I participated in the cookie swap last year as well, with my recipe for Almond Toffee Cookies. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do the cookie swap this year. Baking and packaging cookies at home is a breeze, but carrying ingredients and equipment down to my dorm kitchen involves a few more logistics. Even so, I’m really glad that I decided to participate in the cookie swap this year; it was a great study break to dream up a new cookie recipe, and getting boxes of cookies in the mail has been such a nice surprise during finals week. This year, I sent cookies to Emma from My Upbeet Life, Kate from Three Sixty Five Degrees, and Diana from The Dreamery. Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten Mexican Chocolate Cookies from Hannah of FleurDelicious, Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies from Aly of The Michigan Mom, and Peppermint Chia Seed Cookies from Holly of Happy Food Healthy Life. All the cookies were absolutely delicious and my friends and I have been enjoying them after dinner or for snacks in between classes.

This year, I decided to make a peanut butter oatmeal cookie with salted caramel peanuts mixed into the dough. The recipe may or may not have involved the always-treacherous task of taking a mug of half-and-half from the dining hall without being noticed, but it was worth the risk. The cookies are full of flavor from the dark brown sugar, brown butter, and peanut butter, but still have the delicate, almost shortbread-like texture that peanut butter cookies are known for. The peanuts are coated in a simple salted caramel sauce before being folded into the dough, and if you are lucky enough to have any peanuts leftover they make for an excellent sundae topping.

With that, I hope everyone gets to bake and eat plenty of cookies this holiday season and that you all have a wonderful start to 2015!

Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Cookie dough recipe adapted from How Sweet Eats

Salted Caramel Peanuts:

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons water

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 cups dry roasted, unsalted peanuts

Cookie Dough:

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and browned

1 7/8 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/8 teaspoon baking powder

9 tablespoons creamy, salted peanut butter

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups salted caramel peanuts

  1. For the salted caramel peanuts: Line a baking pan with parchment paper and set aside. Stir together the granulated sugar and water in a large skillet, then place over medium-high heat. Cook the sugar, without stirring until it turns a deep amber color and smells like caramel. Immediately remove the pan from the burner, then stir in the butter until melted. Return the pan to medium-low heat, and add the cream and the sea salt and stir well to combine. Add the peanuts to the pan and toss until coated, and cook until sticky and covered in caramel sauce. Transfer the peanuts to the prepared baking pan and let cool completely before proceeding with the recipe. Once the peanuts have cooled, break them apart so that each nut is separate from the rest.
  2. For the cookie dough: Place 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of the butter in a skillet over medium heat and cook until melted and browned, 5-6 minutes. The butter should be a deep golden brown in color and have a nutty fragrance. Pour the butter into a large bowl, and add the remaining 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons of butter) and stir until melted. Let the butter sit for 15 minutes.
  3. While the butter cools, line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 325F. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking soda, and baking powder, and set aside.
  4. Once the butter has cooled for 15 minutes, whisk the peanut butter into the melted butter until smooth. Add the brown sugar and the granulated sugar and whisk until well combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients, and fold gently to combine until just incorporated. Fold in the salted caramel peanuts until evenly distributed.
  5. To form the cookies, roll 1 tablespoon of the dough per cookie into balls, then flatten into disks, and place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes until the edges of the cookies are golden brown. Take care not to overbake these cookies. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Pumpkin-Banana Bread (and Other Cooking Adventures)

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten to experience the seasons change in ways I’ve never seen in California. The days of sweltering in our brick dorm rooms are long gone, as are the afternoons of crunching through piles of vibrant orange and red leaves. Now, nearly every student at Tufts is holed up in the library studying for finals and finishing term papers while watching snow fall over Somerville. My friends and I have gotten used to pulling on layers of socks and mismatched fleeces for our early-morning runs, and I can distinguish the sound of approaching LL Bean boots from three rows over in the library. People at home were always curious as to how I would handle the Boston weather, and I’m happy to report that so far that I don’t mind the cold and wind, but feel free to ask me again in February.

As I’m finishing up the last few days of my first semester (just one more paper and a final to go!), I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve made over the past month or so. In just five days, I’ll be back at home and in my own kitchen, but the Houston Hall kitchen has served me well this past semester. The above picture of Pumpkin-Banana Bread is from Veterans’ Day, and is one of the best bananas breads I’ve made so far. Each loaf is packed with pumpkin, brown butter, and cinnamon in addition to the usual bananas, and the result is a rich, tender quick bread with a crisp crust. I plead the fifth on where I got the bananas and cinnamon (rhymes with shining mall), but all of the other ingredients were honestly procured.


For my first Thanksgiving in Hanover with the lovely Kline-Schoders, I got to make pecan and pumpkin pies in the first real kitchen I had seen in months. It made me feel closer to home knowing that 3000 miles away, my dad was rolling out the crust and making the custard for his pecan pie.


Last week, I made a smoked sea salt and parmesan focaccia for a Tufts Culinary Society Potluck. I improvised a no-knead dough that was very simple to put together and bake—it rose overnight and just needed one additional rise before being baked in the morning. Like all slow-fermented breads, the focaccia was deliciously bubbly and chewy, and the parmesan crust was a nice addition.


Finally, this past weekend I made a batch of double chocolate peanut butter cookies with oat flour for my gluten-free friend. This was one of my first experiments with gluten-free baking, so I was thrilled that they tasted like a typical, gluten-filled cookie.

Pumpkin-Banana Bread

Adapted from Seriously Delish by Jessica Merchant

Makes 3 small loaves (8 x 3 inches) or 2 regular loaves (5 x 9 inches)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon table salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 ripe bananas

1 ½ cups pumpkin puree

2/3 cup honey

½ cup granulated sugar

4 eggs

2/3 cup water

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F and grease your baking pans (see note above for the size and quantity). In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, cinnamon, and table salt.
  2. In a medium skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter until fully melted, then continue to cook for 2-3 more minutes until browned. Once it smells toasted and nutty, pour it into a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, mash the bananas until smooth, then whisk in the pumpkin puree. Add the browned butter, honey, and granulated sugar, and whisk until well combined. Add the eggs and beat vigorously until well combined. Whisk in the water and vanilla extra until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and fold with a rubber spatula until the batter is just combined—do not overbeat.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pans, distributing the batter evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-55 minutes (small pans) and 65-85 minutes (large pans) until the tops are golden brown, just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the loaves comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and set on a wire rack to cool completely.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

ABC Kitchen’s Squash Toast


I like to think that college has turned me into somewhat of an opportunist—go explore Boston or Sommerville for a day? Sure, why not. Take a butternut squash from the dining hall’s autumn display and stealthily walk out of breakfast with a suddenly much heavier backpack? Of course. There were plenty of other decorative gourds where it came from, anyways, and I couldn’t bear to see such a seasonally appropriate food languish on top of the salad bar when I knew it could become so much more.

The butternut squash sat on my desk for nearly two weeks, staring me down every time I sat down to finish a problem set or write a paper. Last Saturday I finally decided put it to good use. This dish we made, a recipe for butternut squash toast with ricotta and caramelized onion jam is certainly nothing new, but the recipe from the John-Georges Vongerichten’s famed ABC Kitchen has been a favorite recipe of many home cooks for the past few years, and the combination of good cheese and fully caramelized, seasoned vegetables sounded too good to be true after eating dining hall food for the past few months.

So, with a few friends, a cutting board and a mixing bowl bought from Goodwill for two dollars each, the squash, a few drinking glasses of oil, vinegar, and a bowl of sliced onions taken, again, from the dining hall, we sat down in the dorm kitchen and had our first dinner party of the semester. After having eaten nearly all of our meals in the bustling dining hall—the kind with tall ceilings that noises reverberate off of so that that every meal is punctuated with the clatter of dropped plastic cups and the whir of the soft-serve machine—it was such a treat to sit down in a cozy kitchen and enjoy hearty bread topped with creamy ricotta, spicy roasted squash, and caramelized onion jam. The vegetables were cooked but still had life in them—a delicate balance to attain when cooking 5 gallons of broccoli florets for hundreds of students, but straightforward when roasting a single pan of sliced squash—and the contrast of the mild sweetness of the squash against the tangy onions tied all of the flavors into a perfect autumn tartine. It may have been our first dinner party of the semester, but it certainly won’t be our last.

Special thanks to Tufts University Dining Services for creating such a practical autumn display and for having all kinds of vegetables and vinegars in the salad bar. My friends and I are most grateful.

ABC Kitchen’s Squash Toast

Recipe from ABC kitchen found via Smitten Kitchen and adapted for dorm living

Serves 4 as a light main course

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion thinly sliced—I used 2 cups of sliced red onion, which worked well

1 teaspoon table salt

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar—I used red wine vinegar, which served in a pinch

3 tablespoons maple syrup—I used an equal amount of brown sugar

1 medium butternut squash, 2 ½-3 lbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ teaspoons table salt

½ teaspoon red chili flakes

8-10 slices of hearty whole grain bread, a nice Pain au Levain or any sort of seeded rustic boule will work well

Extra olive oil, for brushing the bread

4 oz. whole-milk ricotta cheese, at room temperature

Optional garnishes: chopped fresh mint, a few pinches of kosher or sea salt

  1. Heat the 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt, and saute for 10-15 minutes, until beginning to turn golden brown. Then add the vinegar and maple syrup or brown sugar, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook until the onions are thoroughly caramelized and jammy, 15-20 more minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel and seed the butternut squash, then cut it into ¼ inch thick slices (see the photos above for a visual). In a large bowl, toss the squash slices with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons salt and chili flakes. Spread into an even layer on the prepared baking sheet, then roast in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the squash is tender and beginning to turn golden brown.
  3. Once the squash is finished, remove the sheet from the oven and transfer the squash to the bowl with the onion jam. Mash the squash into the onions with a fork until combined but not too homogeneous. Set aside and keep warm.
  4. Toast the bread under the broiler element until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side. Brush each slice of bread with olive oil, then spread with a heaping tablespoon of ricotta. Place a layer of squash on top of the ricotta and top with mint and salt, if desired. Serve immediately.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Dorm Kitchen Caramels

I don’t want to make any blanket statements, but I think I’m probably the only person who has made caramels so far this year in a Tufts dorm kitchen. I made caramels, not because I have a masochistic love of boiling sugar on slightly unreliable kitchen appliances, but because I wanted to bring something to a get-together in Brookline that traveled well and used minimal ingredients. Caramels are something I’ve made many times before at home, and they come together easily when you have potholders and a laser thermometer at your disposal, but they require a little more creativity and chemistry outside of without modern equipment. Turns out, a small ice water bath (or moderately cold water bath) allows you to check what stage of caramelization the sugar is at during the cooking process. For caramel candies, the ideal stage is somewhere just beyond the “soft-ball” stage, meaning that when a few droplets of caramel are added to the ice water, they will solidify into a small clump that can be rolled into a ball that will hold its shape but will yield easily under pressure. The technique is nowhere near as precise as using a thermometer, but while I don’t mind borrowing the odd plate or cup from the dining hall I’m not yet bold enough to borrow a glass thermometer from my biology lab. (Don’t worry, Mom, Dad, and any other concerned adult reading this; I don’t plan on doing that for at least another semester.)

The stars—and Massachusetts humidity—could have aligned against me that Friday, but luckily the caramels set up perfectly—they were firm enough to hold their shape but not a danger to orthodontia. Unlike most candies the almost-bitter taste of the caramelized sugar keeps the caramels from being too cloyingly sweet, making it all too easy to eat more than one. Just one batch of this recipe makes quite a few caramels, so if you happen to be going to a college reunion in place of your dad on one night and hosting a TV night the next, you’ll have plenty of caramels for both events.

For those of you back home who are curious about what the dorm kitchens are like, here’s a snapshot of the Houston kitchen:

On the stovetop is a batch of Brown Sugar Cookies that I made last Sunday, and Kenny and Ellie would like you all to know that they got their stamp of approval.

Soft Caramel Candies

Makes about 64 Caramels

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream

  1. Fill a small bowl with ice water and set it within reach of your stovetop. Line an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and water and place over medium-high heat. Cook without stirring until the sugar melts and begins to caramelize, swirling the pan to ensure even cooking. Continue to cook until the caramel is the shade of deep amber but not yet burnt—this process will take 10-15 minutes total depending on the material and surface area of the pan.
  3. Once the caramel is about 30 seconds from becoming burnt sugar, take the pan immediately off the heat and add the butter and cream. Stir until the butter is melted and incorporated, then return the pan to the burner over low heat and cook, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the caramel has reached the soft-ball stage. This means that when you drop a small spoonful of caramel into the prepared bowl of ice water, it will quickly form a soft, malleable ball that can be flatten once squeezed but will not harden into a toffee. Alternatively if you are cooking in a well-equipped home kitchen and not the basement of your dorm, cook the caramel until it registers 245-250F. Once the caramel has reached the appropriate temperature, pour it into the prepared pan and let it sit until set, at least 2 hours. Remove the parchment and the caramel from the pan and cut with a sharp knife into caramels about 1 square inch in size. Wrap the caramels in small rectangles of parchment, twisting the ends to close. Keep in an airtight bag or container, and serve within 2 weeks.

Note: If you have some nice sea salt and want to make salted caramels, stir ½ teaspoon of sea salt into the caramel along with the butter and the sugar and sprinkle a few flakes on the top of each individual caramel.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Berry Mascarpone Cake


Hello from Tufts! It’s been nearly a month since I left Palo Alto and flew to Boston. Though it’s only been three and a half weeks, it feels like I’ve been gone for much longer; from the five-day backpacking trip to the whirlwind of move-in and orientation that flowed straight into the start of classes, clubs, and events. Just like everyone has been telling me since I decided on Tufts, the campus is full of people with all kinds of interests that don’t mind making friends with a Californian, even though I don’t say “wicked,” say “melk” instead of “milk,” and can’t understand why everyone says “rotary” instead of “roundabout.” Vernacular differences aside, however, I feel like I fit right in with this student body that talks about politics, science, and food with the same enthusiasm as the geeks of Silicon Valley.


This cake was the very last thing that I made in my kitchen at home; a recipe born partly out of the necessity to finish off a container of mascarpone that I knew would languish in the fridge unless I did something about it, but I also wanted to seize any last moments I had in the kitchen that I have used for so many years. There’s been a lot of cooking at Tufts—a pan of toffee made on a Whisperlite at a shelter on the Vermont Long Trail, a batch of brownies in a spare basement kitchen, four trays of dehydrated fruit in my friend’s dorm room, and a spectacularly constructed ice-box cake made from stolen dining hall cookies and whipped cream—but I’ve not yet begun to trust ovens and stoves in the same way that I did at home, where a batch of perfect chocolate chip cookies took exactly six minutes and 30 seconds and a loaf of bread went from dough to a deep brown boule in 45 minutes.


Although this cake was something more or less improvised, it deserves to be made again and again. The mascarpone creates a tender and buttery crumb that supports the berries that sink into the cake while it bakes, creating pockets of jammy flavor in every bite. A layer of sugar on top of the batter and the cast-iron skillet together make for a golden-brown crust on all edges of the cake that gives way to the delicate cake. It may look like a summer recipe for the final weeks of berry season, which it is, but with some frozen berries it can be made all year round. It’s a cake simple enough to make for a potluck but impressive enough for a dinner party. Who knows, maybe sometime I’ll see if my dorm kitchen can handle this recipe.

Berry Mascarpone Cake

Makes 1, 10-inch cake

Adapted from the recipe for Raspberry Buckle

1 1/2 cups flour

Pinch allspice

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon table salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 cup sugar

6 oz. mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

2 eggs

2/3 cup milk

12 oz. mix of raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, either fresh or frozen

1 tablespoon sugar

1. Grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with butter and preheat the oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, allspice, baking powder, and salt, then set aside.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the melted butter and sugar, then beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the mascarpone and beat until well combined, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is smooth and homogenous. With the mixture running on low, add the milk and mix until evenly incorporated.

3. Scrape down the sides of the mixer, then add the dry ingredients. Fold the dry ingredients into the batter with a rubber spatula until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Spread the berries in a single layer on top of the batter, then sprinkle with the tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out mostly clean, with only a few crumbs attached. Let cool for at least 30 minutes, then serve with powdered sugar and whipped cream, if desired.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Blueberry Crumble Pie


I used to think that our family was a strictly pie-for-Thanksgiving family. We make some pretty nice pecan and pumpkin pies every November, but for the rest of the year, we stick to cookies, cakes, and frozen desserts for our special occasions. There’s some logic to this; pies are a ton of work and unless you have a lot of practice, the idea of rolling and crimping a pie crust can be slightly daunting. You can’t just whip together a pie like you can a batch of bar cookies.


Then, we took a trip to Scandinavia and tasted the best berry pie in all of Oslo. Inside a single-serving pie crust was a rich blueberry filling that tasted and smelled exactly like wild-blueberries—the perfect complement to a simple crumble topping.


Obviously I had to make a pie like this at home, so barely a week after getting back, 40 of our closest friends were sitting alongside us at the neighborhood pool eating cake, cupcakes, and blueberry crumble pie for one final summer potluck before the eight soon-to-be college freshmen scatter across to world to Seattle, Rochester, Davis, Madison, Tel Aviv, and Boston. Some of those friends I’ve known since I was just three, and sitting there with all of them made me feel so lucky to have grown up with such great friends.

Not a single crumb of this pie was left over from that night, because between the thick layer of blueberries that burst into a jam-like filling in the heat of the oven, the flaky layer of pie crust, and the sweet, buttery crumble, it’s easy to see why it was such a hit.


On a final note, a few of you have asked what will happen to this blog once I’m at Tufts. At the moment, I don’t have any more recipe posts planned, and I have a feeling I’ll be pretty busy studying and exploring Boston. That being said, if I have some free time and a post idea in my head, I may pop in! Thank you so much to each and every one of you for reading and cooking along with me for the past 15 months.


 

Blueberry Crumble Pie

Adapted from Joanne Eats Well With Others

Crust from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Makes one 9-inch pie

Crust:

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ tablespoon granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen and cut into ¼ inch cubes

2-3 tablespoons ice water

Blueberry Filling:

2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar

2 ½ tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons lemon juice

5 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

Crumble:

3 tablespoons brown sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

¾ cup all-purpose flour

For the crust:

  1. Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter to the bowl and rub the butter quickly into the flour using your fingers until the butter is in small bits and uniformly distributed into the flour. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the water over the flour and fold gently with a rubber spatula. If the dough still doesn’t come together, add up to 1 tablespoon more of water. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured countertop and gather it into a six inch disk. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
  2. Once the dough has chilled, unwrap the dough and place it on a lightly floured countertop. Roll the dough out into a circle of even thickness, 12 inches in diameter. Carefully fold the dough in half, then half again, then place it in a nine-inch round glass pie pan. Fold any excess overhang of the pie crust under itself to create a rim on the top of the pan, then crimp the edges using a pincer grasp on your dominant hand and your index finger on your non-dominant hand. Place the dough in the freezer for 20 minutes to chill.
  3. While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the chilled dough from the freezer and place a double layer of aluminum foil in the base of the pie pan with an ample overhang. Fill the bowl of aluminum foil with ceramic pie weights or dried beans, then bake the pie crust in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and carefully lift off the foil and pie weights. If the crust has collapsed at all, gently nudge it up the edges of the pan with a butter knife or small spoon.

For the filling:

  1. While the pie pan of dough is in the freezer, prepare the filling. Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Add the blueberries and toss to combine, then let sit for 20-30 minutes while the pie crust chills and bakes.

For the crumble:

  1. While the pie crust bakes, assemble the crumble. In a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and melted butter until smooth. Add the flour and stir until incorporated.

To assemble and bake the pie:

  1. Once you have removed the pie crust from the oven, turn the oven temperature up to 375F. Pour the blueberry mixture into the prebaked pie shell. Using your fingers, break off pieces of the crumble topping and scatter them over the surface of the blueberries in an even layer. Bake the pie on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 55-75 minutes until the filling is bubbling, the berries have begun to break down, and the crumble is golden brown. Remove the pie from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before slicing and serving.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Sunday Dinners

Starting in May of 2006, when I was just ten years old, my dad and I started making dinner together every Sunday night. We didn’t anticipate that this would be such a long standing tradition, but one Sunday night turned into two, and here we are just over eight years later. Last night was the final Sunday dinner before I leave for college—an event that made me choke up in the pasta aisle of Trader Joe’s. That doesn’t mean, of course, that there won’t be more dinners during the summer and winter vacations, but it is the first real break in a tradition that has meant so much to me.

Making tomato sauce, winter of 2008-2009.

The food and cooking was one of the reasons why I loved making Sunday dinner, but it was always so much more than that. Sundays were about spending a few minutes in the morning planning the menu and making a list, one person with a cookbook and a pad of paper and the other rummaging around in the cabinets to see if we still had a bottle of sesame oil hiding behind the red wine vinegar.

Chocolate Soufflé, September 27, 2009. Modeling done by Aidan, pre-growth spurt.

No Sunday dinner would be complete without a trip to the grocery store, a route that we biked the first few years, then started driving when it came time for me to practice for my driving test. Dad would head to the butcher counter, and I to the international foods aisle before meeting in the produce section for the final decision of the morning: romaine or spring mix?

On the first Sunday, we made breaded, pan-fried Tilapia with roasted red potatoes and salad, which we also made the second week. Thankfully we started to branch out on the third week, and soon no cuisine was left alone. A few highlights from our dinners include sweet potato and potato gnocchi, French onion soup, falafel, homemade ravioli, Thai curries, aloo gobi, carrot and walnut pizza, grilled pizza, Vietnamese bun, all types of pastas, risottos, and polentas, lettuce cups, mushroom bourguignon, and a nearly unheard of quantity of salad.

Stuffed mushrooms, roasted sweet potatoes, and rustic dinner rolls, probably fall of 2008.

In the summers we would explore the berries at the farmer’s markets before bringing home cardboard trays of loganberries, ollalieberries, raspberries, and marionberries to turn into brilliant containers of fuchsia and eggplant-colored sorbets that the four of us would eat together at the table, Aidan’s spoon clattering against the edge of his bowl in a race against melting berry juice.

Chocolate Pots de Crème, winter of 2008.

Above all, I owe so much to my dad for devoting much of his weekend to fold ravioli with the precision of an engineer and the patience of an Italian grandmother. He rescues the burning walnuts that I often neglect on the stove and closes every drawer that, despite my intentions, stays open every time I reach for a spoon or measuring cup. I am so lucky to have a family that shares their love of food with me every single Sunday, and I am going to miss these dinners more than I ever thought I would back when I was ten years old and making our very first Sunday dinner.

Our last Sunday dinner was a good one: Arugula, apple, and feta salad, grilled Portobello mushrooms, Cacio e Pepe spaghetti, and almond-crusted chicken (for the meat eaters). For dessert, two sorbets: one made with blackberries and the other with golden raspberries. It was a bittersweet evening, but I know that the next time I’m back in Palo Alto, Sunday dinner will start again like it never stopped.

 

 

 

 

Fresh Pasta: Malloreddus and Fettuccine

About once or twice a year I get the urge to make fresh pasta. I don’t make it all that often because it’s a pretty involved process and our (very active) family of four can put away a significant amount of pasta, so you really have to be ready to spend a chunk of the day pretending you’re Lidia Bastianich behind your kitchen counter. When I want to take the extra time to roll out fresh pasta, I seize the opportunity, because there is nothing quite like a hot plate of pasta that just minutes ago was rolled out on the countertop. The pasta strands are unbelievably light and tender without being mushy, and the clean wheat flavor really shines through a simple sauce.

There are two main types of pasta dough that Italians make: pasta all’uovo, or fresh pasta dough made with eggs, and pasta fresca di semola di grano duro, or fresh pasta made with semolina flour. A few nights ago for dinner, I made fettuccine from pasta all’uovo and malloreddus from semolina dough. Although the ingredients for the two pasta doughs vary slightly, the mixing and kneading process is quite similar. The steps below are shown using the pasta all’uovo.

The dough can be made either in the food processor or on the countertop with just a fork—the food processor will save you some time and effort, but I almost always use the countertop method because I would rather spend a few extra minutes kneading pasta dough rather than use up precious dishwasher space to clean the food processor.

Start with a mound of flour, then create a deep cavity in the center of the mound with your fist.

Pour the eggs into the cavity, then pierce the yolks with the tines of a fork, and begin gently beating the eggs while slowly incorporating more flour into the beaten eggs.

After a few minutes, you’ll end up with a shaggy mass of dough that you can begin kneading with your hands. After 15-25 minutes (or one episode of The Mindy Project), the dough will be smooth, supple, and feel like a dry earlobe. Then it’s time for the dough to rest; it takes at least 30 minutes for the gluten molecules to relax and allow for the dough to hydrate fully, so wrap the dough in plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge, and wait for a bit before you start rolling the pasta into the sfoglia, or pasta sheets.

As a comparison, the photos above show what the semolina dough looks like before and after kneading.

Once the dough has rested, it’s time to roll out the pasta dough. The dough can be rolled with either a rolling pin or a pasta roller, but the pasta roller is so much easier and faster to use than doing it by hand. The dough is cut into portions, then rolled starting on the widest setting to the thinnest setting, with about 3 passes though each numbered setting. The pasta dough is properly rolled when it’s smooth and thin enough that light can pass though it and your hand is clearly visible when placed beneath the pasta sheet.

Once you’ve rolled out the sfoglia, let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes so that it will cut more cleanly into fettuccine. While it’s resting, you can roll out the remaining portions of dough.

Cutting the dough into the fettuccine is the easy part. Either roll the pasta sheets like you would a yoga mat and cut crosswise into strips, or cut it on a fettuccine-sized attachment on a pasta machine. Liberally dust the cut pasta with all-purpose flour, then pile the noodles loosely on a dishcloth dusted with flour while you cut the rest of the pasta.

Thin, fresh pasta like this cooks almost instantly, so it needs just one to two minutes in boiling, salted water before it’s perfectly al dente. Toss it in a simple light sauce like pesto, butter, or a light tomato sauce (pictured above is a sautéed garlic and olive oil sauce), and serve the hot pasta immediately with a little parmesan.

Now for the semolina dough:

Semolina dough is much sturdier than pasta all’uovo, so I use it to create pastas like cavatelli, or small dumpling shapes like these malloreddus. Malloreddus are originally from Sardinia, and occasionally include saffron in the dough for color and flavor. You can sometimes find them sold as dried pasta, but they can also be made fresh. They’re much less time consuming to shape than any sort of noodle or filled pasta, but they do take a little bit longer to cook. The dough gets rolled into long ropes about half an inch in diameter, then cut into half-inch pieces, a little smaller than a piece of gnocchi.

To give the malloreddus a curved shape and ridged exterior, they’re traditionally rolled on the back of a wicker basket, but a cheese grater is commonly used as well with similar results.

Malloreddus take about eight to nine minutes to cook in the pasta water before they get tossed with sauce (pictured below is a brown-butter and shallot sauce) and served.

Pasta all’uovo for fettuccine

Serves 4

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 large eggs

  1. Mound the flour on a countertop or large cutting board, then create a deep cavity in the center of the mound with your fist.
  2. Pour the eggs into the cavity, then pierce the yolks with the tines of a fork, and begin gently beating the eggs while slowly incorporating more flour into the beaten eggs.
  3. After a few minutes, you’ll end up with a shaggy mass of dough that you can begin kneading with your hands. After 15-25 minutes (or one episode of The Mindy Project), the dough will be smooth, supple, and feel like a dry earlobe. Then it’s time for the dough to rest; it takes at least 30 minutes for the gluten molecules to relax and allow for the dough to hydrate fully, so wrap the dough in plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge, and wait for a bit before you start rolling the pasta into the sfoglia, or pasta sheets.
  4. Cutting the dough into the fettuccine is the easy part. Either roll the pasta sheets like you would a yoga mat and cut crosswise into strips, or cut it on a fettuccine-sized attachment on a pasta machine. Liberally dust the cut pasta with all-purpose flour, then pile the noodles loosely on a dishcloth dusted with flour while you cut the rest of the pasta.
  5. Thin, fresh pasta like this cooks almost instantly, so it needs just one to two minutes in boiling, salted water before it’s perfectly al dente. Toss it in a simple light sauce like pesto, butter, or a light tomato sauce, and serve the hot pasta immediately with a little parmesan.

Pasta di semola di grano duro for malloreddus

Serves 4

1 lb. semolina flour

200 ml (3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) filtered water

  1. Mound the flour on a countertop or large cutting board, then create a deep cavity in the center of the mound with your fist.
  2. Pour the water into the cavity, then use the tines of a fork to slowly beat the water into the semolina flour.
  3. After a few minutes, you’ll end up with a shaggy mass of dough that you can begin kneading with your hands. After 15-25 minutes (or one episode of The Mindy Project), the dough will be smooth, supple, and feel like a dry earlobe. Then it’s time for the dough to rest; it takes at least 30 minutes for the gluten molecules to relax and allow for the dough to hydrate fully, so wrap the dough in plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge, and wait for a bit before you start forming the mallorredus.
  4. Cut the dough into six pieces, then roll each piece into a long, even rope about ½ inch in diameter. Cut the rope into ½ inch pieces, a little smaller than a piece of gnocchi. Roll each piece off the ridged side of a cheese grater (see pictures in the post for more details), then place the malloreddus on a dishcloth dusted with flour.
  5. Cook the malloreddus in boiling salted water for 8-9 minutes, until al dente. Drain and toss with sauce, then serve immediately.

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Semolina Orange Tea Cake


I like to think of cakes in two broad categories: special occasion cakes and rectangular cakes. Special occasion cakes are nearly always cut into triangular wedges and involve multiple layers of ganache, cake, and frosting. They’re one of my very favorite things to make and eat, but they’re also a lot of work. Rectangular cakes, however, are a convenient way to bridge the gap between birthday parties. They come in the form of pound cakes, almond or fruit loaf cakes with glazes and dustings of powdered sugar, and tea cakes. You know, the cakes you can eat for breakfast with a cup of coffee or for afternoon snack with some tea.

This most recent recipe for tea cake that I found (from Jerusalem) is the perfect recipe for any occasion where you may need a simple dessert. There’s no butter to soften and cream painstakingly with sugar, just two bowls of wet and dry ingredients that get whisked together and baked in a loaf pan. Once the golden brown cakes emerge from the oven and perfume the air with scents of honey and orange zest, you brush them with simple syrup so that the outside is moist and sweet, even three or four days later. The semolina gives the crumb a little bit of crunch and the honey speeds up the caramelization process so that the crust is a rich golden color. The short slices make for convenient hand-held snacks when reading a book, but the cakes can be cut into longer planks as well to be spread with jam or marmalade.

Just because a cake doesn’t take all day to make doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious and impressive.


Semolina Orange Tea Cake

Adapted from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Makes 2 short loaves or one taller loaf

¾ sunflower or canola oil

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2 oranges)

Zest of two oranges

½ cup honey

4 eggs

1/3 cup sugar

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons semolina flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon table salt

Soaking Syrup

1 cup sugar

½ cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons water

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F and grease your loaf pan or pans (see note below for details on sizing), then line with parchment paper along the base and longest sides. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, orange juice, zest, honey, and eggs. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, semolina, baking powder, and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan or pans, then place on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, 45-60 minutes.
  3. About 10 minutes before the cakes are done, place the sugar and the water for the soaking syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Once the cakes come out of the oven, begin brushing them with the syrup. This may take a few minutes and may seem like an inordinate amount of syrup, but if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve survived either the SAT, college, doing laundry, or all of the above so I think you can handle brushing a cup of simply syrup into a cake. Keep at it and make sure to use up all of the syrup. Remove the cakes from the pan and let them cool completely before serving.

Note: This recipe will make either 2 short cakes or one taller one. For two smaller cakes, prepare two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans as directed in step 1. For a taller cake, only use one 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, prepare as directed, and pour all of the batter into the one pan. It will take an additional 20-30 minutes to bake fully.

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Coconut Almond Macaroons

Welcome back to Cookie Monday! Enjoy this week’s installment:


Aside from the occasional Passover macaroon I haven’t had many of the traditional coconut macaroons, instead falling for the delicate French macaroons with almonds and butter-cream filling. Then an occasion arose where I needed a gluten-free cookie, but didn’t want to spend all day finding sweet rice flour, oat flour, and xanthan gum. Oh, and I didn’t want to use any eggs either—they were needed for breakfast the next day. The situation could have been a real disaster, but after a little brainstorming I came up with the idea for a coconut macaroon bound with almond butter and scented with almond extract.

The result was a rich, chewy cookie with flavors of almond and coconut that complimented rather than competed with each other. Better yet, they held together and baked wonderfully to a light golden brown; something that is not easily said about gluten-free and vegan cookies. Now I know I won’t be waiting until the next Passover dinner I attend to have another macaroon.


Coconut Almond Macaroons

Makes about 32 macaroons

1/3 cup creamy almond butter

1/3 cup canola oil

2 tablespoons almond milk

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 cup almond meal

¼ teaspoon table salt

1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F and line two baking sheet with parchment paper. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the almond butter, oil, milk, sugar, vanilla, and almond extract until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the almond meal, salt, and coconut and mix on low speed until fully combined, about 1 minute.
  2. Scoop 1 tablespoon-sized amounts of macaroon dough onto the prepared baking sheets, then bake in the preheated oven for 10-13 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool, then serve.

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