Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Making Coffee They’ll Love

If you’re like me, you have a few different coffee contraptions tucked away in your kitchen for different situations. I’m here to help you decide what kind of coffee to make, what to serve alongside, and how to behave.

Guests: Your Two College Girlfriends

You’ve known them for ages. You need something leisurely, allowing you (while still in your jammies) to solidify the day’s bakery & winery stops.

Method: French press

It’s easy, quiet, and makes just the perfect amount for three people who love bootleg lattes. If they’re sleeping too late, the grinding of the beans will “accidentally” wake them. By the time the coffee is steeping, their sleepy buns will be nestled in the bar stools, and you’ll be baking lemon blueberry scones from your stash in the freezer. This coffee is a thoughtful and gentle start to Croissant Crawl Day, and all the parts are dishwasher safe, so cleaning up won’t stand between you and that kouign amann.

Guests: Your In-Laws

They’ve got a list of sights to see. You need to get everyone caffeinated and out the door before the hot water runs out.

Method: Programmable 12-cup drip machine

It’s fast, large, and won’t make you look like you’re a coffee elitist. Prepare the brew the night before (shh, just this once--we won’t tell) and set the machine for a sane but slightly ambitious time. Leave cups, spoons, and the sugar bowl beside the machine, and make sure the milk or cream is easily found in the fridge. You shower while the water is at its hottest, then roll into the kitchen smelling nice. Pop that strata that you made last night into the oven and give your gang some options on how to spend the day. Pick the biggest mug in the cabinet; you know you’re going to end up at Pike Place, and you are not standing in that around-the-block line at Starbucks.

Guest: That hottie you have a date with tonight

Well, aren’t you the little optimistic planner! You better make sure you have fresh fruit and maple syrup (the real stuff) while you’re at it.

Method: Moka pot

It’s strong and smooth. With a compact build and an adorable jauntiness to its top, coffee makers don’t get any more adorable than this. At this point, you don’t need the morning equivalent of a Golden Retriever puppy, but it sure won’t hurt. Let your lover choose a record while you put the coffee on the stove, and let them peek to watch it bubble up while you’re making waffles in your A-game underwear. Warm the syrup if you want this to happen again.

Guest: That hottie that came home with you last night...but….

Not that it’s regret, per se, but there are some things you only really need to do once.

Method: Cowboy coffee

Saucepan, water, Maxwell House. It’s a recipe for no encores. If you don’t own a saucepan or are out of coffee, engage a 30-second hunt for a packet of Swiss Miss. The cereal should be cold, just like that shoulder you’re going to give.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Chewy Nutty Cookies

Years ago, Mom gave me a stack of family recipes, full of gems like buttermilk cornbread, walnut fudge, and seafoam icing. Tucked away in that stack was a recipe for the descriptively named "Chewy Nutty Cookies." It had always looked like a simple recipe, but one that had never grabbed me because of the presence of pecans. Traditionally, I object to nuts in cookies. Sometimes, I'm a fool.

Before Mom & Dad got married, Mom was living with her mother. They saw this recipe on an egg carton and decided to make them. Mom remembered them being good enough to save the recipe, but hadn't made them since 1972. Until last fall.

As the name implies, this cookie is both chewy and nutty, but because the pecans are nearly ground--I use my food processor to chop them to a fine grind, slightly finer than what you find in baklava--they give more structure to the cookie than chunks of nuts throughout the dough. A roll around in sugar doesn't hurt. They're the perfect cookie to round out your cookie repertoire.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Everyday Granola

I go for weeks at a time eating Greek yogurt, berries, and granola for breakfast. I used to buy granola in bulk, but I recently realized that even the bulk prices are a little crazy, and that granola doesn't have to be complicated to be just as delicious as the fancy-bagged granola at boutique shops.

This is a good basic recipe that's easily customized with your favorites. I use slivered almonds because I like how consistent the pieces are, especially given the similar size of the rolled oats. You can use whatever nut you'd like--just chop them coarsely.

(PS: I'm trying something different with this post--I'm adding a 5x7 recipe card. Let me know if I should keep doing them!)

Everyday Granola
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
⅓ cup maple syrup
⅓ cup packed (2 ⅓ ounces) light brown sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups (10 ounces) slivered almonds
2 cups dried fruit, chopped if the pieces are big (I like dried blueberries and currants)

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in large bowl, then whisk in the oil. Fold in oats and almonds until thoroughly coated.

Pour into the pan and spread across sheet into thin, even layer. Using stiff metal spatula, compress the mixture. Bake until lightly browned, 40 to 45 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking.

Remove the granola from oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 1 hour. Break cooled granola into pieces of desired size. Stir in dried fruit. (Granola can be stored in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day, Y'all!

I'm not the most environmentally conscious person, but I take small steps or measures to help where I can. I wanted to share two new things we've been doing to help out the earth and ourselves.

Reusable produce bags

We registered for these at Crate & Barrel, and we use them all the time! We have two sets, so as long as I remember to bring them with me to the store, I don't have to use plastic produce bags. I usually store the veggies in the bags in the fridge and toss them into the wash after a couple of uses.

The Buy Nothing Project is a friendly and feel-good form of reusing, and it builds community. I recently joined our neighborhood Buy Nothing Project Facebook page and have given away vases, shower curtain hooks, lamps, and even a giant bag of forgotten nail polish--all to my neighbors! I've also picked up summer hats for Baby K, a set of 19 Nancy Drew books, and a 1940s art deco compote dish. 

Their mission statement: "We offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors."

Find a project near you!

Cleaning products
I've been using lemon juice, baking soda, and vinegar to clean counters and shower doors--cheap, easy, and effective! Check out this handy chart for how to mix natural cleaning solutions.

I just ordered some essential oils and spray bottles to up my game a bit! Real Simple had a great article in their May 2015 issue with natural recipes to replace most of the cleaners we use in our house.

Reused/recycled materials
Ok, so I don't do a lot of creating (other than edible things), so I'm not very helpful there. But I do know people who do a great job of creating amazing things out of materials that have served their purpose in their first life. My friend David and his wife Lang live on a sailboat near us around Anacortes. Lang makes these gorgeous bags and totes out of old sail cloths and sells them on Etsy. Her work is absolutely beautiful, and I'm trying to justify my need for another tote. Look at this! 

How about you? What little steps have you started recently to take better care of our home?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Om nom nom COOKIES

I've been making these cookies for years, and I haven't told you about them. I'm terrible.

These cookies are just about everything I want in a chocolate chip cookie. They're a tiny bit crispy on the outside edge, with just the right balance of chewy/soft on the inside. There's plenty of chocolate distributed, and a good dose of salt really seals the deal.

I make these a lot. We eat them at home often, but they travel spectacularly well. I shove them in the backseat for road trips. I've packed the frozen dough in checked luggage. I bring them as my personal item on flights to see friends and family. I took them to Vegas, along with another batch of a different recipe--a browned butter chocolate chip cookie--for a scientific taste test with two of my best friends in the whole wide world. (These cookies won, but I'm secretly planning a fusion of the two cookies. Keep an eye out!)

I usually bake half the batch, then scoop the rest into balls, freeze them for an hour or two on a cookie sheet, then plop them into a bag and into the freezer. Being only 10 minutes away from freshly baked cookies is my I'm-sorry gift to you for keeping these from you.

This recipe is a tad fussy, calling for two types of flour and at least one DAY of rest in the fridge, but it's worth it. I'm not the kind of girl who lets cookies cool on a rack before I eat them, so please believe me when I tell you that, just like me, these cookies need a day of rest.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies...so far
Adapted from Jacques Torres

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 ⅔ cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
2 ½ sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 ¼ pounds bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli)
Sea salt for sprinkling

Cream the butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. (Really do a thorough job here. The mixture should actually change colors, from a golden brown to a very light beige.) If you're using a stand mixer, you can proceed while the mixer whirs away: Mix flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set it aside.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition, then stir in the vanilla.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop the chocolate chips in and incorporate them without breaking them. Once the dough is homogeneous (except for the chocolate chunks), stop mixing! Press plastic wrap against the dough, give it a little kiss, and refrigerate it for 24 to 36 hours. You can refrigerate the dough for up to 72 hours.

When you're ready to get down to business, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the baking sheet. (I portion the dough out with this scoop and freeze it after it rests. You can bake them straight from frozen--just add a couple of minutes to the cooking time.) Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, about 10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then carefully place the cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more before om NOM NOMMING.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Big game? Big nachos!

The Seahawks are the closest thing I've ever had to a hometown team, and I'm really excited for Sunday's game! Even if the Seahawks weren't playing, I'd still be excited because of the importance placed on snacking. In our house, sports snacking means fancy nachos, with emphasis on tasty toppings and plenty of cheese. You know what's sad? Naked tortilla chips and a pile of chipless toppings at the bottom of the pan.

Friends, I'm happy to introduce a game-changer: Tostada nachos. Using tostada shells is faster, easier, and more efficient than using tortilla chips. No more Tetrising of the chips to fully line a pan. No more losing valuable toppings through the cracks of tortilla chips. No more wrangling 18 chips in order to get enough toppings!
Action shot!
Here's how the magic happens:
1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Lay out six or seven tostada shells.
3. Go crazy with toppings! (For Josh's birthday here, I used black beans, pickled jalepenos, red onions, frozen roasted corn from Trader Joe's, banana peppers, green onions, and cheddar and pepperjack cheeses. Some of those toppings came straight off of the Whole Food's salad bar. Look at that belly--this pregnant lady limited her time standing and chopping.)
4. Do another layer of chips & toppings.
5. Bake at 350 until the cheese is melty--usually about 15 minutes.
6. Serve with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, radishes, cilantro...

Don't worry--this is before the second cheese layer. I'm not that cruel.

Now tell me: What's your favorite nacho topping or nacho hack?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

My Current Favorite Things - January 2015

I've been away from here for a while. I've been spending most of my days in a baby-bliss-filled haze, and it has been lovely. I start work Monday, and am hoping to get into a better routine of work, cooking, and snuggling. My hope for my writing is that I publish more often, but perhaps shorter posts. It can get daunting to have a big, involved idea or recipe floating around in my head, and then I try to say something interesting about pizza dough. Sometimes I just want to tell you that it's great dough and you should try it if you're looking to make a pizza.
One of my favorite things: Huge cedar trees in our backyard. This is the morning view from our guest bedroom.

So I've been thinking about a few things that I've been appreciating and loving lately, and I want to tell you about them.

In the Kitchen
  • Frozen chopped onions. Bags of these are about a dollar each, and are so convenient for quick dishes--scrambles, guacamole, veggies & rice, etc. I usually only use a quarter of a cup at time, and I'm already stockpiling bags in our deep freezer.
  • Taylor Farms Kale Chopped Salad. You all probably know that I'm a huge kale trash-talker. It's always too bitter and too tough, and I always regret trying to eat it. Well, trash-talker no more! I picked up a bag of this on sale last week to serve with butternut squash risotto, and I went back the next day to get more. It's the best kale I've ever had. I think the real secret is to dress it and let it stand for 20 minutes, which seems to tenderize the kale. (The salad also has Brussels sprouts, but even if you normally hate raw sprouts AND kale [like former me], you should give this salad a try. Really.)
  • The simple salad: spring greens, tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, avocado, Parmesan, and balsamic vinaigrette. Our neighbor Jackie brought this salad to our house a few weeks ago, along with her adorable baby who's eight days older than Baby KJ! We loved the salad so much that night that we just keep making it. Thank you, Jackie!
On Your TV & Computer
  • The Great British Bake-Off (PBS) is my favorite reality show of all time. I love the transparency of the show; it's clear that the bakers have been preparing for each episode and practicing specific recipes just for the competition. There aren't any villains, and no one's "not here to make friends." It's just people who love to bake doing their thing. Bonus points: I've finally learned how to pronounce things like "marscarspone", "tuilles", and "compote". 
  • PicMonkey is my favorite site for editing photos. It's free, although the $30/year upgrade to unlock all the features is definitely worth it. It's easy, intuitive, and the tutorials are wonderful. The site's tone is also pretty cheeky, which I love. I fancied up a picture for our Christmas card and edited our wedding photos for a collage with PicMonkey. I'd love to try their recipe card tutorial next.
  • I met Tricia of A Couple of Dashes on a food tour (more about that in my next post). Tricia blogs frequently about all things fitness--motivation, food, gear, humor, nutrition--she does it all, and with a great upbeat attitude. If you are always signed up for a race or have a separate dresser for your workout clothes, her blog is for you.
  • My partner in crime who also did the food tour with me is my friend Tania of HashtagEat. Tania is a spectacular cook, amazing photographer, and the sweetest friend. Her food styling is also getting really good, so check out her blog for tasty dinner ideas or local Seattle dining hot spots.
I hope I'll find you back again here soon. I'm going to try harder!