I know 2012 is well under way, but I couldn’t resist sharing photos from my family’s “traditional” Christmas feasts, which always consists of enough food to feed an army…even though the adult roll call typically tops out around a dozen.
Yes, that’s fish head soup . . . a honeybaked ham . . . AND homemade sushi. Nothing is off limits!
alice medrich, cherry almond bars, cookies and brownies, cranberry zucchini carrot bread, gilt taste, gingersnaps, holiday baking, momofuku milk bar, oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, snappy gingersnaps, snickerdoodle, sono baking company cookbook, sugar cookie cutouts, sur la table paper loaf mold
Although I generally incorporate some baking into every holiday season, the volume of baking varies from year to year. This year, since I was going to Atlanta to spend Christmas with my cousins on my mom’s side of the family, I decided to go all-in on the baking.
Cookies are always a big hit and make pretty presents. This year, I decided to try two new recipes posted on Gilt Taste from the staff at Momofuku Milk Bar— the snappy gingersnaps and sugar cutout cookies. These supplemented my stand-by recipes for snickerdoodles and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. For those who get a toothache from all the sugar, I also made cherry almond bars (not pictured) and cranberry, zucchini, and carrot bread from the SoNo Baking Company Cookbook.
I normally keep a pretty good supply of baking staples at home — butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and chocolate. However, to execute my planned bake-a-thon, I supplemented my supplies with an additional five pounds of flour, four pounds of butter, a dozen and a half eggs, and six pounds of sugar(!).
My Momofuku cookies were +/- in the end. . . the gingersnaps weren’t quite as “snappy” or spicy as I’d like, but I fault my own ingredients rather than the recipe. I probably should have gotten new and better quality molasses and ground ginger instead of using what I dug out of my pantry. I also did not have cardamom and substituted with nutmeg? Forming the perfect shaped log for the slice-and-bake method proved more difficult than I thought and resulted in some pretty irregularly shaped cookies. But all and all, they are a nice relief from the other supersweet cookies in this year’s cookie batch.
The sugar cutout recipe turned out really well. I’ve tried several different sugar cookie cutout recipes in the past but have never been in love with any of them. In the end, the basic three-ingredient recipe from Milk Bar’s pastry sou chefs is definitely my favorite. All you need is butter, sugar, and flour! Instead of the traditional sugar cookie icing, I wanted cookie *frosting* similar to those deliciously bad store-bought frosted sugar cookies. I Googled, and ended up using a simple recipe that included shortening. Admittedly, shortening frightens me a bit, and I’ve never used it, but since these are not cookies I make (or eat) often, I thought it’d be ok for a little indulgence this holiday season :). To “compensate” for the shortening, I stayed away from the food coloring and topped the frosting with clear and gold sanding sugar.
I received the SoNo Baking Company Cookbook as a gift from my cousin, and I have yielded consistently great results. Because my parents, aunts, and uncles are less enamored with sugar-heavy cookies, I converted the cranberry, zucchini, carrot muffin recipe into a loaf recipe. Each batch yielded two 8″ loaves that were instantly gift-ready in Sur La Table’s paper loaf molds. The burst of bright red cranberries were extra festive for the holidays!
Years ago, my cousin made snickerdoodles for Thanksgiving, and since then, her recipe from from Cookie and Brownies by Alice Medrich has become a staple in my baking repertoire. Although I am not always this lucky, this particular batch turned out quite well, as far as texture, shape, and crackle go:
And last but not least, I made an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie that I actually got from a friend in high school! For over 6 or 7 years, had the list of measured ingredients and oven temperature (375*) written on a square Post-It note. At one point, I upgraded it onto a larger piece of paper, but the method for combining and incorporating the ingredients and purely based on the standard method for baking, cookies especially, over the years which basically boils down to five steps:
- Measure and wisk together dry (flour, baking soda/powder, salt) ingredients in medium bowl.
- Cream sugar and butter together until smooth but not fluffy.
- Add eggs and vanilla to sugar and butter.
- Incorporate dry ingredients.
- Fold in mix-ins (i.e., oatmeal or chocolate chips).
Works every time. For this batch, I also drew inspiration from Teaism’s salty oat cookie and lightly rolled each cookie in kosher salt before baking.
At the end of the (2.5) day(s), I made over 190 cookies, 6 loaves of cran-zucchini-carrot bread, and 16 cherry almond bars. Hands down my biggest bake-a-thon to date. . . and a very, merry Christmas to all!
When I lived in St. Louis, one of my favorite dishes was the wok seared salmon noodles at (sadly, now closed) Zoe Pan-Asian Cafe in the Central West End. It’s been years since I’ve had it, but the other night, based on random ingredients I happened to have on hand, I decided to try my own interpretation of it.
First, I brushed chunks of salmon (Whole Foods’ frozen wild sockeye Alaskan salmon) with a 1:1 mixture of mirin and soy sauce for a teriyaki-like flavor. Over medium high heat, I seared the salmon quickly then added chopped yellow onion and red bell peppers. Next, I added cooked Taiwanese noodles and seasoned with more soy sauce, mirin, and oyster sauce. Lastly, I added chopped green onions and finished with sriracha sauce.
If I wasn’t feeling extra lazy, I would have made a trip to the store for some spinach, which would have boosted the nutritional value of the dish, but it was still pretty tasty for a this-is-what-I-have-in-my-fridge kind of dish.
For 12 weeks this fall, I have spent my Tuesday and Thursday early mornings with eleven 3rd-5th graders as their Girls on the Run coach. Since practice is before school starts, my co-coach and I realized that the girls need a snack at the end of practice to get their schooldays started.
Snack has to meet the following requirements: (1) affordable, (2) healthy (one of the cornerstones of the program), (3) easy to serve to little girls outside at a park, and (4) no nuts. . . no peanut butter, no peanuts, no tree nuts of any kind!
Although all of these requirements have been challenging, honestly, (4) often stumps us. It’s not that there are any nut allergies on our team; it’s just the school’s policy, which we learned about when my co-coach brought granola bars one practice and the girls reacted like we were handing out candy cigarettes. Allegedly, a peanut butter sandwich once caused an evacuation at school?! I cannot imagine elementary school without peanut butter and butter (yes, butter, not jelly; I made my own lunches :)) sandwiches.
Our staples for the season were bagels (not well received when not accompanied with loads of cream cheese) and cereal bars (team’s favorite flavor: apple). But every so often, I tried to switch things up (and save a little money for objective (1)) by baking for the girls. With an eye towards objective (2), I’ve substituted oil with apple sauce and cut sugar in muffin recipes. To comply with objective (4), I made cherry almond bars . . . minus the almonds. In an attempt to make something heartier, I made corn muffins with bacon (similar to but slightly less adventurous than my Thanksgiving experiment).
My snack baking adventures have received mixed reviews from the critics. Thumbs up for the pumpkin muffins. Plus minus on the cherry almond bars depending on receptiveness towards cherries. And a resounding fail on the corn muffins:”Corn makes me puke.” “I don’t like corn in my cornbread.” “Why is there bacon in the muffin?”
All season, I’ve pretended like I can’t hear their demands for chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cupcakes, and, simply, chocolate. But for their last practice, I caved to the will of 11 little girls. Nut-free chocolate chip granola bars? Nah. Why bother with the chocolate at all.
After being introduced to the recipe (as printed in the L.A. Times) by my cousin years ago, and Recchiuti fudge brownies quickly became my staple brownie recipe and the only baked good that I actually crave to the point of making a batch for myself (it’s happened twice!).
This past spring, when I was in San Francisco, I stumbled upon the Recchiuti Confections at the Ferry Building Marketplace. I jumped at the opportunity to taste the original creations, and I must say, mine are strikingly similar (at least to my moderately discerning palate).
The recipe is simple– unsweetened chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs, salt, sifted flour, and semisweet chocolate.
For this batch, I used 100% cacoa Girardelli chocolate, Hershey’s Special Dark (an Ipso Fatto baking tip for semisweet chocolate), and some sort of special unsalted Irish butter from Trader Joe’s (but I normally bake with Land O’ Lakes). I used a standing mixer for the eggs and salt but hand-folded the chocolate and flour into the batter with a spatula.
Needless to say, the girls were happy to have brownies for breakfast. I hope their teachers will forgive me for sending them to class with sugar highs at 8:30 A.M.