Small and Mighty: the Macaron

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Ah, the macaron. Small and sweet, perfectly prim, and a force to be reckoned with. I made a batch of these last night, and I’m still trying to figure out all the ways I went wrong — but at least they taste delicious! I’m not much of a baker, preferring the trial-and-error type of prep involved with savory dishes over the mathematical precision needed for baking. However, I’ve been watching MasterChef, a reality show (hosted by the ferocious Gordon Ramsay) where ambitious home cooks compete in various cooking challenges, so I felt inspired to try something outside of my comfort zone. I also wanted to use the beautiful new hand mixer my mom gave me for Christmas, and test my meringue abilities.

Long, long story short, I’m optimistically calling these macarons a 75% win and a 25% failure. They look absolutely nothing like the photo in the recipe I followed (and definitely nothing like macarons in the windows of Financier and other fancy bakeries), but they do taste really, really good.

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Looking back, it is laughable how simple the recipe made these cookies seem. When I was piping the batter out of a ziploc bag (yep, not a pastry bag, just a ziploc bag), I realized I had no idea how tall to pipe the macarons. After hurriedly Googling “tips for macarons,” there are entire WEBSITES devoted to all the problems you can encounter. I pressed on and ended up with some deflated and dense cookies to sandwich around a delicious lemon buttercream frosting.

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I think my biggest issue was not beating the eggs enough. “Stiff peaks” did not exactly form before I folded the dry ingredients in, so that probably prevented my cookies from being as tall as they were supposed to. I was supposed to start beating on Medium, but it was probably more like Medium-Low, before working my way up to High. Oops.

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Thank goodness they taste delicious. It was a lot of effort, but I’d much rather have a good-tasting cookie that looks bad rather than a bad-tasting cookie that tastes good. I think that’s what Gordon would want as well. Right, Gordon?

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Or maybe not.

Dessert As Narrative

I couldn’t not share these photos of the wonderfully weird treats my talented friend Jamie whipped up for her holiday party a few weeks ago. The desserts allude to the theme of the night — the fictional defeat of Lessie the sea monster, as told in an epic story by Jamie’s boyfriend Chris. The treats below were all parts of the fallen Lessie’s body. I assure you, however, they were much tastier than you would expect a sea monster to be.

A Belated Thanksgiving Recap

This year I celebrated Thanksgiving three times over: with friends, with work, and with my mom. I definitely did a lot more eating than I did cooking, but did manage to whip up this Vegan Pecan Pie from Food 52. It was very well-received, especially with a big dollop of whipped cream on the side.

Lauren and I hosted a delicious Friendsgiving. Our house was full to the brim with savory and sweet treats, as well as friendship and mulled wine. There were lots of tasty vegetarian casseroles, but the boys expertly cooked a huge turkey to round out the meal for us meat eaters.  

My favorite dishes were Alison’s Eggplant & Squash Moussaka and Ed’s Sriarcha-glazed Brussel Sprouts — pretty much the only green element on the table!

A wonderful celebration with wonderful friends.

At work we had a Thanksgiving-themed bake-off. The photo above is of the LEFTOVERS, after our team luncheon where we presented the desserts. I think we all enjoyed a pumpkin cheesecake brownie or two for breakfast that week!

And lastly, I had Thanksgiving dinner with my mom in North Carolina. Her roast parsnips and potatoes are always so delicious. The turkey was cooked to perfection, complete with tasty stuffing and crisp bacon on top.

My mom also made an amazing hazelnut roulade with pumpkin cream filling. Light and airy but still creamy and indulgent, it was the perfect follow-up to the main meal — after waiting a few hours to digest, of course! For this photo I art directed the turkeys (who are actually salt and pepper shakers) to strike this pose. 

Six Food Memoirs You Should Read

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I’m not generally one to make New Years resolutions, but at the beginning of 2013 I resolved to read more (though “more” was not quantified in any particular way). Looking through my library checkout history of the past year, I discovered I’d read 29 books this year! Not to mention the handful of books I’ve borrowed from Maggie and Chelsea. That’s about one book every other week! 

One genre of books I gravitated towards was food memoirs, unsurprisingly. There’s always a plethora of them at the library, and a few of them I recognized from reading about online. I definitely liked some more than others. Memoirs can come off (to me at least) as a bit tedious if you don’t like the author’s voice, though that’s not necessarily the author’s fault. Anyway, all of the above were generally good reads, and it was interesting to be learning about food in a different format than my usual food blogs, online articles, and cookbooks.

I’ll start with my favorite: The Art of Eating In by Cathy Erway. This book appealed to me because Cathy’s lifestyle is so similar to mine — attempting to eat in (and save money) as much as possible in a city where eating out is the norm. She decides not to eat out for two years in an effort to be healthier and hone her cooking skills (and her willpower). I liked her anecdotal writing style, and her description of Brooklyn-centric dinner parties and food events. I would definitely recommend this book for someone who wants to be motivated to eat in more.

I also really loved Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver’s fiction books are wonderful, and this memoir was written just as beautifully and humorously. The book centers on her family’s move from Arizona to rural North Carolina (!) where they vow to only consume food they have grown themselves, or purchased from a local (and usually seasonal) vendor. This new lifestyle presents many challenges, as you can imagine, but their food education and exploration is fascinating to read about. 

A Tiger in the Kitchen by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan was also very good. Overwhelmed by her life as a New York fashion writer, the author retreats to Singapore to learn authentic family recipes from her grandmother and aunties. The memoir outlines her learning curve of the foreign recipes, in a language she doesn’t always understand, while reconnecting with her family and heritage.

Though I enjoyed Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, I felt the latter half of the book focused too much on her personal life and marriage.  It was really interesting, however, to read about how all her food experiences (observing her childhood kitchen, working in catering, cooking at a summer camp, and learning from her Italian in-laws) converged to influence the style of her famed NYC restaurant Prune

I also found Heat by Bill Buford to be slightly tedious, though the story is  fascinating. Buford volunteers as a line cook in Mario Batali’s kitchen, slowly learning the fine points of food prep and cooking — making many mistakes along the way. The book highlights the crazy kitchen culture, and goes into a lot of detail about Batali’s history. Sometimes the chapters and individual stories felt very long, though the detail is great. 

And finally, though I enjoyed Julie and Julia by Julie Powell quite a bit, I felt it didn’t live up to all the hype. I love the premise of the book — setting out to cook all of Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking recipes in one year, and blogging about it — I just didn’t love the author’s tone. However, I did appreciate her honesty about kitchen failures (and difficulty procuring various ingredients), and how much of a learning process it all was. Much of the detail is great, and I would definitely watch the movie.

A Quest for Sumac

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Sumac berry photo courtesy Wikipedia.

I’d been on the lookout for a spice called Sumac for a while, hoping it would take me out of the cooking rut I was stuck in. I read lots of recipes promising that Sumac would deliver an acidic punch to pretty much any salad, fish, or chicken dish, and I was looking forward to trying out this Middle Eastern staple. Sadly the Sumac, a fine red powder with a tart flavor, was proving difficult to track down.

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Powdered Sumac photo courtesy Jules: Stone Soup.

I saw it on wholesale websites, and in Williams-Sonoma (for $7.95 per tiny bottle!), but knew there must be some small authentic market that would have it for cheap. After some extensive googling I learned about Sahadi’s — a magical Mediterranean grocery store in Brooklyn Heights. Sahadi’s stocks bulk bins of grains, dried fruits, nuts, olives, candies, any & all Middle Eastern provisions (hummus, babaganoush, etc), has a small baked goods section, and most importantly: Sumac. Best of all, everything in the store is super cheap. My generous container of Sumac was only 93 cents! I was in spice heaven:

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After wandering around for way too long, I ended up walking away with the following: bag of spinach cous-cous ($2), a can of chickpeas ($0.90), Sumac ($0.93), a “nutella wheel” ($1), and a spinach and feta boureka ($0.75, sadly consumed on the way home, but photographed on the street).

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Sahadi’s also stocks hummus in a can. I wasn’t brave enough to try it (why is it ready to eat? should it be refrigerated first?), but I wish I had been — it was only $1. Next time, for sure:

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After all that effort, I was worried the Sumac would let me down. Was it really worth the special trek, despite the cheap price? 

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Well, I’m pleased to report that the Sumac flavoring definitely lived up to my high expectations. It’s lemony and sweet, without overpowering the dish, and complements pretty much anything I’ve put it on. It’s interesting that it’s acceptable to sprinkle the Sumac on both during and after the cooking process. There’s a lot of spices (say cumin, for example), that I think would be unpalatable when sprinkled on at the table (would be way too dry on your tongue). But apparently it’s quite common for a small bowl of Sumac to be served at the same time as dinner, as if it’s a condiment.

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So far I’ve had the Sumac on chicken, chickpeas, and eggplant, and it’s really enhanced each dish. I’ve been sprinkling about a teaspoon amount on while sauteeing the chicken, etc. The light and tart flavor has been a great addition to my summer dinners, especially when paired with wilted spinach, cooked couscous, or chopped fresh veggies.

Very Green Falafels

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Sunday continues to be my “food prep” day — yesterday I made a bunch of falafels to see me through the week. Combined with a tomato and cucumber salad, shredded broccoli and carrots, plus tahini sauce, I’m very much looking forward to lunchtime today.

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The falafels themselves are pretty light — they’re pan fried, but at least not as deep fried as falafels you’d get from a cart (though let’s be honest, those are the best). And they’re packed full of dark leafy greens, plus a whole can of chickpeas, so they’re nutritious and should be fairly high in protein. 

I’ve made falafels several times in the past, but this time I cut out the egg and breadcrumbs. I had to add a few tablespoons of chickpea flour to make them stay together — the falafels were just too wet and hummus-like otherwise, and fell apart in the pan.

I also added more than a cup of kale…maybe closer to a cup and a half. Plus a teaspoon of cumin and a teaspoon of celery salt, and no soy or worcestershire sauce. The falafels were pretty tasty, but the tomato and cucumber salad definitely completed the meal:

Tomato and Cucumber salad is:
(basically tabbouleh without the grains)

♥  1 box grape tomatoes (about two handfuls), cut into quarters
♥  1 small cucumber, chopped into bitesize pieces
♥  1/4 bunch parsley, minced
♥  1/4 white onion, minced
♥  1 tbsp red wine vinegar
♥  1 tbsp white wine vinegar
♥  salt and pepper, to taste.

I drizzled tahini sauce on top of the falafels, salad, and broccoli/carrot slaw (from a bag) to complete the meal:

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Beets, round two

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I made a simple beet sandwich this weekend, and roasted enough beets for Monday and Tuesday lunches at work. After tossing the beets in olive oil and rosemary, I roasted (really, “toasted”) them in my toaster oven for about twenty minutes, flipping them over at the halfway mark.

Since the toaster oven isn’t as powerful as our regular oven, I made sure to slice the beets very thinly so they would cook all the way through. 

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I toasted half a whole wheat roll, then spread a thin layer of goat cheese. On top of that I layered some pureed white beans (really just mashed up with a fork, combined with lemon juice and more rosemary), then the beets.

For my work lunches I stuffed a bunch of salad greens inside the sandwich, instead of having the salad on the side. Whenever I eat salad at my desk at work I am always spilling balsamic vinegar on my keyboard/desk/clothes so figured it was easier to just have the greens tucked away inside the sammie!

I love making lunches for work that are low-effort but still tasty, healthy, and filling — so this sandwich is going into the work-lunch rotation for sure.

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Beet & Parsnip Salad, plus weekend eats & drinks

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This Beet & Parsnip Salad was inspired by a cute new online mini-series I watched over the weekend, My Life in Sourdough, which is about a French girl moving to New York and “looking for food, looking for love.” They only have one episode online so far, but I’m very much looking forward to their next one. They pair recipes with episodes, from what I can tell…so their Spring Salad recipe is the salad featured in the first video.

I loosely followed their recipe; sauteeing the beets and parsnips instead of roasting them. I definitely think roasting is the best way to prepare root vegetables, but turning on the oven on a humid June afternoon is just out of the question in our steamy apartment. Instead, I sauteed the veggies over low/medium heat for about thirty minutes, adding water every seven minutes or so (hoping to steam them so they’d cook through, but still wanting a crispy crust from the pan). The smaller chunks of beets definitely cooked the best. This method seemed sufficient for the parsnips, too. 

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I also added chunks of goat cheese and pinenuts, and drizzled balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, and lemon juice as the dressing.

This was such a refreshing summertime lunch. Thanks, My Life In Sourdough, for the inspiration!

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 

When I wasn’t sitting on my bed — in the air conditioning — eating beet salad and watching New Girl — I was out and about quite a bit this weekend. Friday night I went over to Maggie and Alex’s lovely new Greenwich Village apartment. They’ve done a wonderful job of maximizing space and storage in their studio apartment; I can’t wait to officially warm the house at their Tiny Food Tiny Apartment party later this month.

After checking out their place we went to Asia Dog — a restaurant and food truck that serves hot dogs with Asian-inspired toppings. There are so many options it’s a bit overwhelming, but I had a chicken dog with banh-mi type toppings (pate, daikon, carrots, cilantro, lime). Other delicious toppings in our group included japanese curry, kimchi apples, pork belly, and potato chips. The dogs themselves were a little small, so I was glad we got the yam fries with kimchi aioli as a side. Asia Dog is pretty well priced; Lauren and I split the 2-dogs-1-side for $10 deal. The SoHo restaurant is very tiny — we were lucky to get a seat — but I know Asia Dog is often at Smorgasburg, and at least the dogs would be easy to eat standing up!

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After Asia Dog we wandered over to Little Italy and had some sangria and wine. Pretty delicious, and a generous glass for $8!

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I don’t often frequent Manhattan on the weekends, but now that Maggie and Alex live in the Village, I’m excited to have a reason to adventure over there more. Friday night was such a great example of why New York is the greatest — Asian-American food and Italian food just two blocks apart!

Pad Thai with buckwheat noodles

This post is less of a recipe and more to just sing the praises of buckwheat noodles. I don’t know much about buckwheat, but it seems to be a great gluten-free alternative when in noodle and flour form. (Though you do have to be careful with the noodles, if you are trying to avoid gluten, because many buckwheat noodles are blend of buckwheat and wheat flour.)

Buckwheat was originally grown in Tibet and Northern China — it grew in these tough mountainous regions where regular wheat would not grow. So for many (thousands of?) years, noodles were made with buckwheat flour only. Now buckwheat is used in food all around the world: crepes in France, blinis in Russia, porridge in Poland, and noodles all over Asia.

In the past I have made pad thai with rice noodles, but my grocery store was out of the thicker rice noodles — hence the impulse buckwheat buy. I don’t like making pad thai with the vermicelli rice noodles; they just all stick together for me, and I think they’re better suited to soups. But these buckwheat noodles are great — very hearty and nutty. 

I’d like to try out these buckwheat recipes:

Or just make this Pad Thai again:

Pad Thai components:
♥  1 block tofu: pressed, sliced into half-inch tall strips, and baked or fried
♥  1 egg, scrambled
♥  1 box buckwheat noodles, prepared according to directions on box (mine said to boil for 5-6 mins, then drain)
♥  1 carrot, chopped into matchsticks
♥  handful scallions, chopped (keep whites and greens separate)
♥  two large handfuls greens (spinach or arugula) (this is not traditional but a good way to get extra nutrients into this noodle-heavy dish)
♥  1/2 a red pepper, chopped into half-inch long pieces (also not traditional but gives a nice crunch)
♥  1 cup peanuts, crushed

Pad Thai sauce:
♥  1/4 cup ketchup
♥  1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
♥  1/4 cup lime juice
♥  1 tbsp brown sugar
♥  3 tbsp peanut butter

Pad Thai Garnish:
♥  handful crushed peanuts
♥  lime wedge

This is a very “mise-en-place" sort of process. Basically, you’ll do lots of chopping, mixing, prepping of the noodles and tofu, and should keep all these ingredients in separate bowls. Then you can heat your wok (or large skillet or cast iron pan) over medium heat and just combine everything. I’d suggest combining all your solid ingredients first — making sure to evenly distribute the veggies and tofu throughout the noodles — before adding the sauce. Then you just stir to combine, and serve! Garnish with more crushed peanuts and a lime wedge.

I didn’t have cilantro or bean sprouts on hand this time, so I left them out…but they are both pretty integral ingredients in a traditional pad thai. 

Vegetable Dumplings

Earlier this month I took a dumpling-making class taught by Cathy Erway (author of the blog Not Eating Out in New York and the book The Art of Eating In). Cathy taught us a lot about dumplings (traditional and experimental), but the evening was still laid-back and informal. It was a great weeknight learning experience. All of us participating walked away with much more dumpling knowledge, and folding skills, than before. If you see her class on Skillshare, and you’re in New York, I’d highly recommend it.

Though Cathy showed us how to make our own dumpling wrappers, I definitely cheated and bought pre-made ones. Filling and folding the dumplings is effort enough, I decided! I bought mine for less than $3 at Hong Kong Supermarket in Chinatown, though I feel like I’ve seen dumpling wrappers at gourmet supermarkets as well.

Cathy encouraged us to throw a dumpling party to make the tedious filling, folding, and cooking process go by faster. Apparently these sort of parties are very popular amongst the Chinese youth. I’m excited to throw one of my own, but I decided before I did that I should test out some recipes first. The first (and, as yet, only) dumpling recipe I tried was Smitten Kitchen’s vegetable dumpling recipe — adapted below: 

Vegetable Dumplings are:
♥  1 block tofu (already pressed), sliced into quarter-inch chunks
♥  1/2 cup grated carrots
♥  1/2 cup shredded napa cabbage
♥  2 tbsp finely chopped red pepper
♥  2 tbsp finely chopped scallions
♥  2 tsp grated fresh ginger
♥  1 tbsp chopped cilantro
♥  2 cloves garlic, grated
♥  1 tbsp soy sauce
♥  1 tbsp hoisin sauce
♥  2 tsp sesame oil
♥  1 egg, beaten
♥  pinch salt & pepper, to taste
♥  1 packet (35-40) dumpling wrappers

♥  Step One: After you’ve sliced and diced all the solid ingredients listed above, combine the tofu, carrots, cabbage, red pepper, scallions, ginger, cilantro, and garlic in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Phew! Toss to combine.

♥  Step Two: Combine soy sauce, hoisin, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Beat the egg in a separate bowl. Add this sauce mixture and beaten egg to your larger bowl of veggies. Stir to combine.

♥  Step Three: Now it’s time to fold your dumplings. Set out a plate so you’ll have somewhere to rest your freshly-folded darlings. I’m going to suggest you watch this video to learn how to fold the dumplings…I’m a visual learner and definitely benefited from watching Cathy fold the dumplings in real life. It seems that there are many ways to fold a dumpling, but the one in the video is fairly straightforward and similar to the way I do it.

I used water only to seal my dumplings (not egg whites, as shown in the video), but I bet egg whites would work well if you want to put in the extra effort.

♥  Step Four: Once you’ve made a plate full of dumplings, it’s time to cook them. Heat about three tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Make sure your pot or pan has sides, and a fitted lid.

♥  Step Five: Place your dumplings into the heated saucepan. Fit them close together, like they are spooning, but not so close that they stick. Put the lid on, and cook for about three minutes. At the three minute mark, look in the pan and see if the dumplings are browned on the bottom. They should be. Next, pour in enough water that the bottom of the pan is covered, about a quarter of an inch. Place the lid back on so the dumplings will steam.

♥  Step Six: Turn the heat down to medium, and let cook for an additional three minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon when dumplings are done — they’re done when the dumpling wrappers turn entirely translucent, and are not white and “raw” looking.

In the photo below, see how the top edges of the dumplings are still whiter and more rigid looking than the dumpling bodies? This means they need cooking for longer. Here I think I am trying to separate some stuck-together dumplings…otherwise the lid should stay on!

♥  Step Seven: Repeat until all dumplings are cooked. Serve with a simple dipping sauce of soy sauce, hoisin, and red pepper flakes.

Cooking, blogging, and learning in a tiny kitchen in Brooklyn.