04 May 2010

Cooking: A Love Story

So it is no secret that my sister and I share our passion for eating and food.  And, if you happen to follow her blog, you know that her daughters have been groomed from birth to share this passion.  Laura often includes her daughters while baking, and they are allowed access to all the interesting adult  food she prepares.  I know kids are kids, and my nieces aren't perfect.  I am sure there will be roadblocks where an Indian dal doesn't sound as good to one of them as something dipped in ketchup does, but my sister and her husband have laid the foundation for worldly children who appreciate different foods and cultures. 

Recently, my sweet, favorite oldest niece came to visit for a few days.  There was a trip to the zoo to see baby lions, visits to the neighborhood chickens, lots of ice cream, hot pink slime  and hugs.  It was a lovely visit, but my favorite part of her visit was our last dinner together.  Alex and I were trying to decide what to do for dinner. We talked about going out for pizza, but my mom - her Bauma - wanted to stay in and Alex wants nothing more than to be near her Bauma.  Then I suggested a picnic which definitely got a positive response.  Then I wondered what in the world we would make for dinner.  Oh, and Bauma needed a break! So I needed to come up with something to distract Alex from harassing Bauma and make dinner.  Then it hit me - why not have Alex make dinner?

A light bulb went off.  Alex beamed when I suggested she help me out with dinner.  In fact the story now goes something along the lines of, "I made Aunt Josie and Bauma dinner all by myself! I did it all!"  I wasn't really sure how much cooking Laura has let Alex do since she is only 4 and a half years old. But I threw caution to the wind and figured Alex would let me know if she was outside her comfort zone (the most naturally cautious child I have ever met!). 

The eager Chef goes in for a taste.

We first went to the pantry, where I suggested we start by picking a pasta. We went through all the various pastas that Bauma keeps around, and Alex immediately selected couscous when I pointed it out.  After the pasta, I asked Alex what would taste good with the couscous.  She thought for a moment and then said OLIVES and MUSHROOMS!  Thankfully we had both on hand - even some fancy Greek olives that she loves.  I asked how she felt about roasted Piquillo peppers, and she said SURE!  She also picked some fresh yellow bell pepper, sweet onion and  Romano cheese.  We decided to roast some asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper separately.

I asked Alex to prep the veggies while I got the water boiling for the couscous.  She very carefully used a fork and butter knife to "chop" the olives and Piquillo peppers.  I chopped the onion and yellow bell peppers and sauteed them in a bit of olive oil to take the raw bite off.  We mixed all the chopped veggies together with the fluffy couscous.  I drizzled a bit of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the pasta salad, and we topped with some shredded Romano cheese (I think Feta would have been even better, but we didn't have any).  Alex very carefully plated our dishes, having me place the hot asparagus just so.  She sprinkled the plates with shredded cheese and offered Bauma seconds.   She carefully cleared the plates and helped clean up after cooking.  She was adorable and eager to please.  

I didn't think I could love that kid anymore, but it turns out seeing her enjoy herself so much in the kitchen with me made me fall in love a little bit more.  I don't have my own kids, but I still think it is important to spend time in the kitchen with a child you love.   I feel very lucky that I got to spend that night with Alex (chasing bubbles in the backyard after dinner was pretty fun too!). 

30 April 2010

I Missed You (and Peanut Butter Baked Goods)

I'm baaaaaccckkk.  Most of my frenzied packing and cleaning has been completed.  My house is on the market and looking rather empty.  If you have any good mojo to spare, please send a few vibes my way to encourage someone to buy my house!

In the meantime, I have free reign in my parents' newly remodeled kitchen.  And when I say remodeled, I mean full out, state-of-the-art, amazing, beautiful remodeled.  The counters are humongous.  The stove is gas and has 5 burners *swoon*.  There are two ovens. There is a custom counter made specifically to kneading height, which conveniently, is right at butt height and makes a lovely kitchen perch.  There is enough storage for a small army; although, I come by my love of all things kitchen honestly because my mom filled up her storage spaces without much effort. It is a complete and total pleasure to cook in this kitchen.

Due to my move and my parents' remodel, my mom and I have realized the grand scope of our pantry ingredients. We actually started a list of items that we are not to buy under any circumstance since we have a zillion of them already (barbeque sauce anyone?).  So I was looking to bake something new and interesting, and I had the idea for a spicy peanut butter cookie percolating in the back of my mind.  I remembered a jar of Krema, our awesome, local nut company, Hot & Spicy Peanut Butter in our inventory.   I knew instantly that I would use this peanut butter to create a spicy cookie.  

I also feel like I need to take a moment to apologize for the overwhelming number of peanut butter baked goods of late- I must be craving them or something.  This cookie, however, was so different from the others I have posted recently that it didn't even fit in the same category. The cookies are thick and bakery-style huge (I could only find a big cookie scoop in my mom's drawers).  My dad exclaimed at how spicy-hot the cookies were, but to me they were just pleasantly spicy, with a slow-burn of heat that builds in the back of your throat.  The cookie has the perfect combination of flavors: hot and spicy, sweet and salty. I would like to bake them again and experiment with dipping the fork in a mixture of granulated sugar and cayenne pepper to make the ubiquitous criss-cross pattern on the top of the peanut butter cookie. 

If you do not have access to Krema's wonderful products, I would start by adding a teaspoon of ground cayenne to the dough.  Since I am happy to eat cookie dough, I would take a nibble of dough to see if it had enough kick - if not, I'd add a little more cayenne until I got the ratio right for my palate.

Peanut Butter Cookies
adapted from Joy of Baking

3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (105 grams) light brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (260 grams) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

additional granulated sugar mixed with a pinch of cayenne pepper to dip fork in to make criss cross pattern on cookie 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy (about 2 - 3 minutes). Beat in the peanut butter. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat to combine. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the peanut butter mixture and beat until incorporated.  (If the batter is too soft to form into balls, place in the refrigerator for about an hour or until firm.)

Roll the batter into 1 inch (2.54 cm) balls. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet, placing about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Then, using the tines of the fork that has been dipped in white granulated sugar, make a crisscross pattern. 

Bake the cookies for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned around the edges. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Can be stored at room temperature, in an airtight container, for about a week. Freeze for longer storage.

Makes about 20 large, bakery style cookies (or 40 smaller cookies)

31 March 2010

April Showers Bring... New Living Arrangements?

 So I have gone silent, but I promise I have not forgotten you or my blog.  I am in the midst of utter chaos.  I am getting my house ready to put on the market.  In a word: AGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!  I haven't cooked myself a decent (blog-worthy) meal in a few weeks, and it may still be a few more before I get back in a kitchen.

So I wish you all a lovely April Fool's, Easter and Passover and whatever else you may be celebrating (like today is my big brother's birthday! Happy Birthday Chris!).   I promise to be back soon with actual food!

20 March 2010

More Peanut Butter Chocolate Goodies?

I have been on a peanut butter chocolate tear lately.  As much as I enjoy the flavor combination, it isn't a favorite of mine so it is kind of funny that I keep on baking with it. I recently took a weekend trip to Cleveland to visit one of my best friends.  This friend used to be a frequent recipient of my baked goods since we shared an office. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for her, she moved to Cleveland to be with her boyfriend fiance. Since I knew I would be crashing on her couch, I figured a baked good was in order.

Last time I visited her, I brought these delicious peanut butter chocolate "brownies".  She and her fiance were quite enthused with the flavor combination, so I decided to try a new peanut butter chocolate recipe out on them.  I think they were quite happy with my offering. 

The blondies bake up very chewy and crazy-rich. Speaking from personal experience, they make a lovely 2 a.m. post-bar nibble.  The bars were easy to transport and hold up well over a few days. 

The addition of peanut butter keeps the blondies really moist. I think pushing whole peanut butter cups into the top of the hot-from-the-oven blondies was gilding a pretty darn spectacular lily, but it got them out of my house so I wouldn't snack on them.  I found the recipe over at my sister's blog, The Spiced Life.  (If you have a hankering for chocolate and peanut butter, her blog is a great place to start - she has a lot of reviews posted!)

 Rich & Chewy Peanut Butter Squares A.K.A. Best Peanut Butter Blondies EVER
Adapted from Baking By Flavor via The Spiced Life

1 cup (126 g) AP flour
1/4 cup cake flour
3/4 t baking powder
1/8 t salt
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 t vanilla
1 cup chopped Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, plus more for topping (optional)
3/4 cup peanut butter chips
1/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Spray an 8X8 baking pan and line it with parchment paper or foil that overhangs the sides (you will use it to lift the blondies out of the pan). Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Sift together the AP flour, cake flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a medium sized mixing bowl (this is easily done by hand) whisk together the melted butter and peanut butter. Whisk in the brown sugar, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Switching to a wooden spoon or a spatula, mix in the sifted flour mixture. Stir in the chips and peanut butter cups. The dough will be thick and chunky.

Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and spread it in evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating front to back halfway through. The bars are done when the dough is set and golden. Optional: you can press as many peanut butter cups as you want into the surface of the blondies while they are still warm. Let the pan and bars cool completely on a cooling rack. Slice the bars into 4 quadrants--and then slice each quadrant into 4 squares. Try not to eat them all.

11 March 2010

David Chang is a Pork God.

I have no idea if David Chang, of Momofuku fame, would be thrilled with me anointing him a Pork God, but honestly, it is one of the biggest compliments I could pay him. I have never been fortunate enough to actually eat at his restaurants.  And I don't even own the cookbook where this recipe can be found.  But I do believe that this one experience with a Momofuku recipe, following excruciatingly simple instructions (that I still muddled with), transforming a cheap piece of meat into something sublime, qualifies him for the title. 

I found this recipe on Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy, a visually stunning blog that inspires me regularly.  In fact her header design actually helped inspire my recent renovation to my blog.  I recommend adding her to your must-read list.  The instructions for this pork are so simple, it was hard not to tinker with them.  In the end, I was forced to tinker slightly but only minor cooking time/temperature changes to make my life easier.  The original recipe was written to be cooked throughout the day, and I adjusted it so I could cook it overnight by lowering the cooking temperature and extending the cooking time.  The end result is the most tender, succulent shredded pork.  

The brown sugar creates a delectable crust that I found myself seeking out.  The long visit with a salt and sugar rub beautifully flavor the pork.  In fact, the pork was so perfectly seasoned that I didn't salt the end result it at all.  The shredded pork tasted just like the salty-sweet perfection of bacon.  Seriously. A pork shoulder transformed into bacon.  Pork God, I told you.

I served this dish plain in a bun alongside coleslaw.  The original recipe calls for a variety of other goodies to make a Korean Lettuce Wrap of sorts. I am not sure if the name of the recipe, Bo Ssäm, refers to the lettuce wrap or the pork, but be sure to check out the Momofuku Cookbook or Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy for the original serving suggestions.

Shredded Pork
Bo Ssäm adapted from Momofuku via Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy


1 (4- to 6-pound) bone-in pork shoulder or pork butt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon coarse salt
4 tablespoons light-brown sugar


1.  Place pork in a large bowl or roasting pan. In a medium bowl, mix together granulated sugar and 1/2 cup coarse salt. Rub sugar mixture all over pork and cover bowl with plastic wrap; transfer to refrigerator for at least 6 hours and up to overnight.

2.  Preheat oven to 270 degrees.  Discard accumulated juices from roasting pan that pork is in. Transfer roasting pan to oven and cook, tightly covered, for approximately 9 hours (overnight).

3.  In the morning, increase oven temperature to 300 degrees.  Uncover pork and baste meat with accumulated juices every 10-15 minutes for about 1 hour.

4.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together remaining tablespoon coarse salt and brown sugar.  Rub mixture all over pork.

5.  Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees. Return pork to oven until sugar has melted into a crisp crust, about 10 to 15 minutes.

6.  Shred pork with forks and serve as barbeque pork or in Korean Lettuce Wraps, or just eat it like it is bacon - be careful not to burn your fingers! 

05 March 2010

Spring Fever? Make Slaw!

Apparently I am in the midst of a bout of spring fever, which I doubt is all that unusual.  Are you itching for flip flops and mud?  Yearning for the first crocus and daffodil to poke through the earth? Rolling your window down because it is sunny (and who cares that it is only 38 degrees out)?  I can answer yes to all these questions and more.  I am ready for sunshine and longer days.  The ugly brownish snow from our record-setting-February can take a long walk off a short pier. Bring on the wicked rain storms that mean spring in Ohio. 

Oh, and the food, bring on the barbeque and coleslaw!

I may not be able to control the weather, but I can control the food.  So I whipped up a meal of pulled pork and coleslaw that tasted like summer. I will start by sharing the coleslaw, which I found on Smitten Kitchen, while searching for basic creamy slaws.  I have made some killer Carolina vinegar based slaws, but I have never been able to master a creamy coleslaw.  To be fair, I wasn't sure I liked creamy coleslaw until fairly recently, so I haven't been trying for that long.

 Nonetheless, this recipe tasted exactly how I wanted - a little tangy, lightly saucy, not too creamy and just a hint of sweetness.  The best part is that the tangy-ness and sweetness are totally controllable by adjusting slightly to your taste.  The slaw retained a lovely crunch even after a day in the refrigerator.  It was the perfect side dish to the pork sandwiches, which I will soon share.

Now if only I could control the weather, I'd be a perfectly content blogger...

Simple Slaw
adapted from Gourmet, June 2008 via Smitten Kitchen
serves 4-5

1 to 1 1/2 lb green cabbage, finely shredded (1/2 of one large head)
1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3-4 T cider vinegar, to taste
2-4 t sugar, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Toss all vegetables in a large bowl with salt and pepper. Whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, and sugar, then toss with slaw. Be sure to taste dressing and adjust vinegar/sugar to own preference. Chill, covered, stirring occasionally, at least 1 hour (for vegetables to wilt and flavors to blend). 
Slaw can be chilled up to 1 day.