Archive for the ‘cookbooks’ Category

I just got back from spending 5 days in San Fransisco with some lovely friends.  What a rejuvenating time but how difficult to come back to cold, snowy New York.  I’d love to share more about my trip but I’ll save that for later.

Right now, I’m making some roasted root vegetables but I’m so very hungry I just can’t wait for them to be done.  Luckily, a few weeks ago I made some nice soup that I froze and am presently enjoying to tide me over until my veggies are done!  This is not just any soup, this is the first recipe I’ve tried out of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I got the cookbook for Christmas.  Not this Christmas, but last Christmas!  I don’t know why I never got around to making any of the recipes I had dog-eared during my first read through of the book.  There are so many yummy recipes and despite what you might think after seeing Julie and Julia, several are simple and require few ingredients.

Perhaps I was inspired to finally make a recipe from the cookbook after my Mom and I watched Julie and Julia for the second time over the holidays.  It is a sweet movie but the books it is based upon are much much better (isn’t that how it always works though?).  What an incredible thing Julie Powell did, cooking her way through the whole book.  I’m not sure I would survive that task, given how much meat is in the book and how long the book is, so I truly admire her feat.

When I arrived back in the Bronx, I remembered we had some leeks from our CSA that were languishing away in the vegetable drawer.  All I had to do was pick up some potatoes since luckily the recipe only calls for a few ingredients and I had the others on hand.  This soup freezes pretty nicely although it does separate a little bit when it thaws–just add a little extra milk or butter and heat it up, it tastes great!

This is an easy recipe that really any cook of any skill level can complete.

-2 large russet potatoes

-3 cups chopped leeks (both white and green parts), about 2 medium leeks

-3 small shallots or onions, chopped

-4 carrots diced***

-2 quarts of water

-salt and pepper, to taste

-rosemary, to taste**

-3 TBSP butter or 1/3 c. heavy cream

***I added this to the recipe as per Julia’s suggestion.  She includes several variations on the basic recipe, this is something I just love about her cookbook.  Aren’t all of us cooks always adding our own twist and experimenting?   It is one of the joys of cooking!  Check out her book to see this and other variations on the potato leek soup.

1.     Chop all the veggies and put them in a big soup pot with the water and some salt and pepper and a few pinches of rosemary.

2.     Simmer partially covered for about 45 minutes or until they pass what I call “the fork test”—are they soft when you stick a fork in each type of veggie?  The carrots take the longest.

3.     Using a blender or food processor, blend everything until smooth and return back to the pot (this is where an immersion blender would come in handy!).

4.     Add in the butter or cream (or milk if you’d like) and adjust seasonings.  (I added butter.  You have to know that Julia LOVED real butter, remember when I posted about how much I love it to?  Mmm!)

What could be more simple than that?!  You don’t really need to stand over the pot watching it so you can set the veggies to boil while you do other things around the house.  I hope you can make this recipe or run out and buy Julia Child’s first cookbook.  It is worth the cost—the illustrations are gloriously detailed and the manner in which the recipe flows is helpful and clear.  The soup is a delight and even better when you have a cold.



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 “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” Dorothy Day

I may have mentioned in past posts that my friend and roommate Heather has been preparing to leave NYC for the Peace Corps in Latin America (with a stop in her hometown of San Francisco).   A week ago, she left the city, a place where she has lived for the last 8 years and the environment in which (in her own words) she has grown from a girl to a woman.  I feel so blessed to have had Heather as a roommate over the past two plus years.  She sure is a whirlwind of energy—a force of nature, as I like to say.  You know those people who are full of big dreams and wishes and idealism but never really seem to know how to set out to accomplish them?  Well my dear friend is definitely not one of them!  I’m excited for her to begin this new chapter and I can’t wait to see the adventures and excitement that await her.
My other roommate Danielle and I threw Heather a going away party for friends, but to say goodbye to our little Bronx community, we did something that felt special but not out of the ordinary.  A few days before she left, we hosted Heather’s last community dinner.  As we try to do almost every week, friends from our building and neighborhood gathered together to eat, drink, and talk.  We shared stories from work, commented on politics and issues in the neighborhood, talked about spouses and children and the babies we are waiting to meet (there is a bit of a baby boom in the building).  In short, we were present to each other for a few blissful hours.  A few things we did were a little bit out of the ordinary for community dinner though—we toasted Heather and she toasted us.  
It was very moving and I can’t think of a better way to formally close out Heather’s time at Rochambeau.
For the farewell dinner, we decided to make pizza.  Heather cannot eat gluten and she had some gluten free pizza mix lying around just begging to be made.  For those who can eat gluten, I made the with-gluten dough.  Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I have to say that this was the best dough recipe I’ve ever made!   I’m not the one who stretched it our baked it—we delegated tasks and I was assigned to putting the dough together.  So I can only take credit for finding the recipe and mixing up the ingredients, but this one is a winner that I will use over and over!
I found this recipe on 101cookbooks.com, my old standby site, but I was pleased to read that this is actually based off a recipe in The Breadbaker’s Apprentice, a book my mom got me almost a year ago!  So it comes from my favorite recipe website and a beloved book, all rolled into one!
The recipe via 101cookbooks (from Peter Reinhart’s book):

White Whole Wheat Pizza Dough Recipe

This is a very adapted version of Peter Reinhart’s dough using white whole wheat flour. There are a few corners that I’m in the habit of cutting with this dough, all reflected in the following recipe instructions.

4 1/2 cups King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups water, ice cold
a few tablespoons chopped herbs (optional)
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. By hand stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed. Add the herbs. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl (to me it looks like a tornado). Add a touch of water or flour to reach the desired effect. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky.
Transfer the dough to a floured countertop. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces and mold each into a ball. Rub each ball with olive oil and slip into plastic sandwich bags. Refrigerator overnight.
When you are ready to make pizza (anytime in the next few days), remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before making the pizza. Keep them covered so they don’t dry out.
At the same time place a baking stone on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees (you can go hotter, but I like the results I get at 450). If you do not have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan, but do not preheat the pan.
Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal and get ready to shape your pizza dough. Uncover or unwrap the dough balls and dust them with flour. Working one at a time, gently press a dough round into a disk wide enough that you can bring it up onto your knuckles to thin out – you should be able to pull each round out to 12-inches or so. If the dough is being fussy and keeps springing back, let it rest for another 15-20 minutes. Place the pulled-out dough on the prepared sheet pan, and jerk the pan to make sure the dough will move around on the cornmeal ball-bearings (you don’t want it to stick to the pan).
Add your toppings (less is more!) and slide the topped pizza onto the baking stone. Bake until the crust is crisp and nicely colored. Remove from the oven. I always finish with more freshly grate parmesan and a small drizzle of good quality extra-virgin olive oil.
Makes six 6-ounce pizza crusts.
And some pictures!

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Season’s Greetings

It’s that time again.  We are in the midst of Advent and Christmas is right around the corner.  I know there are many people who do not celebrate Christmas and many partake in a non-religious way and I am definitely respectful of that.  But I think everyone can agree that the essential, beautiful messages of Christmas are needed more now than they ever have been.  As our nation continues to escalate the wars we are involved in, as children in the cities we live in continue to encounter violence every day, and as friends and neighbors suffer because of the economy, I think everyone needs the hope, light, peace, and faith of the Christmas message.

As for me, I have always loved this time–the waiting, the expecting, the hoping.  I love the preparation for the big day.  For me, it is more than just the material preparation.  I make sure to take extra time each day for myself–to enjoy quiet reflection.  It is that time that helps counter some of the commercial craziness that inevitably comes with Christmas.  This is not to say I don’t enjoy some of the material preparation!  I have a mini-tree in my living room, a pine wreath hanging in the hall, and a snowman angel on our table. 

Also, I am currently reading the Martha Stewart Living Christmas Cookbook.  I absolutely love it!!  It was an early Christmas present from my mother and I’ve been up at night reading it in bed.  This is more than just a Christmas cookbook–yes, it has beautiful, wonderful, yummy holiday dishes and treats, but it is much much more.  Any kind of holiday party food you could want is all there in one book.  My only problem is that I can’t decide which recipes I want to make.  I have a few holiday parties coming up and on Friday I am hosting book club here with my roommate so I do have some opportunities to test out the recipes.   

I will keep you all updated as my Christmas preparations progress.  Aside from making food for parties, I will be making treats to give as gifts and making some crafts for loved ones and tonight I am working on some holiday cards. 
How are you preparing for the holidays?  Whatever you do, don’t forget to take time for yourself and remember why we do all of this preparation in the first place.  Enjoy!

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Monday was Yom Kippur.  I don’t know much about Judaism, but from friends who are Jewish I do know that the holiday is the holiest day of the year for Jews.  It means fasting from sundown of the night before to sundown the day of the holiday.  But it is more than just fasting–it is a day of atonement, of prayer and meditation about your sins against God.  I take that to mean you think about those places in your life where you feel far from God.  I like the idea of setting aside a day to be intentional about that.  And while I did not fast, I did help prepare the meal that my roommates and I shared with neighbors in order to break the fast.  My contribution was the challah bread.  I love challah!  It is a relatively easy bread to make and it looks oh so beautiful when it comes out of the oven.  It is slightly sweet and egg-y tasting.  Whenever I make bread, I get a lot of compliments because I think it seems like a very daunting task to create homemade bread.  I think many people would love to make bread from scratch but are a bit intimidated. Or perhaps people do not have quite as much free time as I do! 

If you have never made bread, you should try it.  I love everything about it.  I love getting covered in flour, I love the physicality of the process–all that kneading, and I love way the smell of flour and yeast permeate the entire kitchen and apartment.  Really I think there are just three main requirements to making bread: commitment, patience, and faith.  The rest is just following directions!

Commitment is very important since making bread can require that you allow the dough to rest and rise two or more times.  You see, making bread is really more of an event, or a process, than regular cooking or baking.  And it must be intentional and planned–I don’t usually make bread on a whim–because of the time it takes.  All along you must be patient, you simply cannot rush the rising or any other step along the way.  You must follow all the directions and wait (and wait and wait in some cases) for that dough to rise.  Most importantly though, making bread is an act of faith.  No one taught me to make bread.  I just saw lovely recipes and decided to jump head first into those accompanied by beautiful glossy photos of perfect loaves.  I simply had faith that somehow it would all work out.  Lo and behold, it usually does.  Of course there have been failures–of course there were times I killed the yeast and the dough didn’t rise.  But more often than not, I have success.  It isn’t always a perfect looking or tasting result, but I guess that’s life! 

The recipe I used came from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen (of the Moosewood Cookbook, I have 3 of her books, I love them!!).  I altered it slightly because I ran out of white flour, but I think I will keep the substitutions in the future because it turned out lovely.  Here are some pictures of the process and product and the recipe is below:

2 1/2 c warm/room temp water
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 c honey
4 tbsp canola oil
3 eggs (1 of those is for the crust)
1 tbsp salt
6 c unbleached white flour
2-3 c wheat flour
  • Place the water in a very large bowl (you want the water to be warm but NOT hot, you want it to feel comfortable on your skin, if it is too hot it will kill the yeast).  Sprinkle in the yeast and then use a whisk to mix in the honey, oil, 2 eggs, and salt.
  • Start adding flour one cup at a time.  I started with the white flour.  At first you can just whisk it in and eventually, around the 3rd cup, you need to start using a wooden spoon.  Keep stirring!!  As you start adding in the wheat flour, you will need to start using your hands to stir.  If after adding 2 cups of wheat flour the dough is extremely sticky you should add another cup of wheat flour….but I think it is better to err on the side of less than more flour since you will add in more as you knead the dough later on.
  • Cover the dough to let it rest.  I cover it with an oiled piece of plastic wrap and then put a dish towel on top.  Let it rest in a warm area…..since our stove top is somehow always a little warm, I put it in between the burners (make sure the burners are off though if you do that!!).  Come back in about 1 1/2 hours or when the dough is doubled in bulk.  (Hint:  if the dough is not doubled after this time, wait a while longer, remember the patience part!!  But the dough should at least look like it is starting to bulk up after around an hour and a half.  Have patience and come back every half hour until it looks like it is doubled in size.  If you are still having issues, you may have killed the yeast…..it could be time to start over, remember to use just warm not hot water in step one.)
  • Punch down the risen dough and take it out onto a well floured surface.  Flour your hands very well and divide the dough into 2 then knead each half for 5 minutes….if the dough gets very sticky add a little to your hands and the dough.  Divide each half into thirds as you see in my picture above and roll out into a long snake-like log.  Aim for about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and then line them up next to each other and begin to braid!  Just keep crossing the outer pieces over the middle–just like braiding hair.
  • Oil 2 baking sheets and place a finished braid on each.  Cover with some oiled plastic wrap and/or a dish towl and let it rest and rise for another hour until they bulk up again.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375.
  • Beat the remaining egg in a dish and brush it over each braid once they are risen.  Bake for about 40 minutes (enjoy the wonderful smells!!).  You will know the bread is done when it sounds hollow if you tap the sides and bottom.  Take the loaves off the trays right away and put onto a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes.  Enjoy!

Last time I wrote about the cheese straws I was planning on making.  They were so fun to make and people really liked them!  I took some pictures that are below to show the process of that, I highly recommend them.  Next post, I’ll share a craft or a book (or at least a recipe that is gluten free)!

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101 Cookbooks

 Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all. -Harriet Van Horne
I do not have 101 cookbooks (yet).  But I love cookbooks, for so many reasons.  I love the enormous weight of possibility they carry.  I remember the Christmas my parents bought me Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook very vividly.  I spent the entire car ride to my Grandparent’s house thumbing through its glossy pages.  The thing weighs a ton and contains a ridiculous number of recipes–most of which are fairly challenging.  Yet I didn’t feel daunted by the large book.  Instead I felt an exciting sense of possibility pulsing through my veins as I imagined myself, dusty from flour and confectioner’s sugar, bringing to life Martha’s one-bowl chocolate cupcakes, her buttermilk biscuits, zucchini bread, and apple pie.  Cookbooks are not so much about reality as they are the stuff of dreams, of fantasy, of potential. 
Needless to say, I’ve made only about 20 of the book’s hundreds of recipes, but each one I make brings me (and hopefully those who eat it) so much joy.  Someday I will get around to making the more complicated recipes–the danish, the pecan rolls, the croissants.  In the meantime, I continue to buy cookbooks!  As hard as I try to stay away from bookstores (since I love them so much and cannot stop myself from buying books), today I succumbed to the temptation.  Once I entered the Border’s at Columbus Circle, my feet brought me right to the food section.  I do not need another cookbook (I have somewhere around 15) but I believe it was fate that brought me there and I had to oblige.  As I was simply browsing the cookbook section, fully intending to exit without a purchase, I came across Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson. 
And here is where 101 Cookbooks comes in.  You see, the above two paragraphs were simply a lead in to my writing about her book and her website.  My friend Sara introduced me to Heidi only about a month ago by way of Heidi’s website (which is what the title of this post refers to).  To say that it was love at first sight is no exaggeration!  I fell hard and fast for her collection of recipes, her pictures, her descriptions.  She also blogs a bit about her life in San Francisco and her world travels.  To have come across her book today without buying it would have been plainly ridiculous.  It was not an impulse buy I will regret.  Riding the D train back up to the Bronx, I poured over Super Natural Cooking and found myself even more delighted by this woman.  Her recipes use whole grains and are natural in the true sense of the word (not in the way agribusiness abuses it–as in diet soda is natural!!).

I have yet to make any of Heidi’s recipes, I have only lingered over website and book, heady with that sense of possibility.  However, reality will set in as I attempt her Buckwheat Cheese Straws (although they will be whole wheat since Whole Foods did not have Buckwheat!).  Cross your fingers for me and if you are lucky enough to be attending Katie and Tiffany’s housewarming party tomorrow, you just might get to sample them.

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