December 2013

christmas cookie party

Every year since moving to our little apartment in San Francisco, I’ve hosted a Christmas cookie party. We bake and decorate, drink mimosas, eat take out. It’s a good time. The tradition actually goes back further to when I was living in D.C. during college. My ‘Maryland family’, the Adinehs, would host a Christmas cookie party of impressive proportions. If there were not at least 12 types of cookies baked and two card tables piled high with delicious treats by the end of it, we had not done our job. There is nothing that makes a lover of butter feel more in the Christmas spirit.

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Thanks to our friend Kelly, there were no holds barred on the decorating front at this year’s cookie party. There were Mondrian cookies, there were paisley cookies, paintbrushes and toothpicks may have been brandished. Never before had I seen such dedication to the art of decorating. I felt like I was running a Martha Stewart craft factory and it was fantastic. Beyond artfully decorated sugar cookies, there were Jordan’s mom’s chocolate snow bombs, malted milk ball cookies, chocolate chip cookies, macaroons, chewy ginger cookies, and pralines. All modesty aside, we hit it out of the park this year.

The holidays are nigh and maybe you still need gifts for the neighbors, or maybe a plate of cookies for Santa, or maybe you just really like cookies? We’ve got plenty of recipes here to help you out.

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Granny’s Sugar Cookies (another one passed down from Nonnie for those who are counting out there)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups flour

Beat the butter until it is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and sugar and cream together for a few more minutes. Add the egg. In another bowl, sift together the salt, baking powder and flour. Add flour mixture into the butter mixture and stir until combined. Divide into two balls, flatten into discs and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. Roll out into 1/4″ thickness and cut with cookie cutters. Bake at 400° for 6 – 8 minutes. These babies cook fast so set a timer!

For the icing
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted (trust me, it will save you time in the end)
1 lemon, juiced into a small bowl and strained of seeds
a few tablespoons of milk
food coloring

Sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl. Add a few tablespoons of the lemon juice and whisk together. It will be a big sugary clump. Add a tablespoon of milk at a time, until you get a smooth icing. Careful though, you don’t want it to be so runny it runs of the cookie. Divide into as many small bowls or cups as colors you’d like to make and add the food coloring.

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Chocolate Snow Bombs (Jordan’s mom’s specialty, aptly named by Jordan)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
powdered sugar for rolling

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Melt the butter and chocolate together. Cool slightly and add the sugar to the chocolate mixture. Add one egg at a time and beat well by hand with a wire whisk. Slowly add the flour mixture and mix well. Chill at least 30 minutes. Shape dough into 1″ balls, rolling in powdered sugar. Place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 300° for 18 – 20 minutes.

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Malted Whopper Cookies, adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup malted milk powder (we all remember this lesson, right?)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped Whoppers (or any malted milk balls)

In a large bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Add the malted milk powder. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugars and beat some more. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until well combined. Mix in the flour mixture. Add the malt balls. Spoon onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, placing cookies about 2 inches apart. Bake at 350° for 10 – 12 minutes, until lightly golden at the edges.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies, from Eileen Crawford, my cousin Katie’s future mother-in-law (pulling out all the secret-family-recipe stops this year)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
12 Tbs unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/8 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1-2 cups chocolate chips

Melt the butter. Combine the two sugars in bowl. Add melted butter and combine until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and combine until smooth. In a separate bowl combine the flour, salt and baking powder, lightly stir. Add flour mixture to the sugar mixture. Combine. Add chocolate chips. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spoon cookie dough onto cookie sheets and bake for 13-18 minutes, depending on the size of the cookie. (I use a large soup spoon to measure the cookie dough and find 15 minutes works for me.)

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Big Chewy Ginger Cookies, adapted from AllRecipes
2 1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup molasses
sugar for rolling

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. In the bowl of a mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat to combine. Add the egg and then mix in the water and molasses. Shape the dough into walnut sized balls and roll in sugar. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake at 350° for 8 – 10 minutes.

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Coconut Macaroons with Mini Chocolate Chips, adapted from AllRecipes
5 1/2 cups flaked coconut
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

Mix all ingredients to combine. Drop by teaspoonfuls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 8 – 10 minutes.

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So there you have it, an excess of sugar and butter that I guarantee will get you in the Christmas spirit.

-Emily
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alice waters and chez panisse

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For our fourth anniversary, Jordan and I went to Chez Panisse. We were in college and I know he saved for months to take me out for that meal. It was pure magic. The restaurant was cozy, beautiful and warm. A big bouquet of wild flowers and branches sat on a small table next to an assortment of gorgeous produce and loaf of fresh bread, a few slices missing. We snuggled into a corner near the kitchen and ate the most perfect four courses of my life. Everything tasted like the best version of itself. The love and care and respect that went into each and every part of that meal was palpable. It was how food is meant to be.

Our dinner at Chez Panisse was the first nice meal we’d ever been to together. My love affair with food had really started to get serious at the time and it felt so special to eat at the restaurant that changed the way we eat in the United States so completely. It warms my heart to look back on that meal and feel the earnest excitement of that night all over again. I left Chez Panisse so inspired to learn, to cook, and to get closer to my food.

Alice Waters changed I think about food and cooking more than anyone, outside of my Nonnie, my Mom and Jordan. From Alice I learned to cook simply and with the seasons, to respect my food and let the qualities of each ingredient shine. I learned to care where my food came from and how it was produced, to acknowledge the environmental impact our food choices make on the earth. I learned that there was nothing more precious than sitting down for a meal together, and that the kitchen and the table are where I am most at peace.

I like to think that I cook with Alice every night. Her philosophies inspire the way I shop, I cook and we eat. Because I feel so close to her in my kitchen, and because I have tremendous respect and admiration for the amazing work she does for children’s education, for the environment, for growers, ranchers and producers, for food and cooking in the United States, it was a dream come true to meet her tonight. I was starstruck, like you are when you meet one of your heros.  I aspire to have a fraction of her guts, vision and grace. Here’s to making that happen and eating well along the way.

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-Emily

Ps. If you’re not familiar with Alice Waters, Chez Panisse and the slow food revolution, I’d recommend reading this wonderful book. You can’t read it and not fall at least a little in love with Alice. Chez Panisse Vegetables is also a favorite around here and a wonderful place to begin cooking more seasonally.

nonnie’s russian teacakes

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These are probably my favorite cookie. They are buttery, just the right amount of sweet, as perfect with coffee as they are with a glass of milk. The recipe is my Nonnie’s, and she always makes sure to have a tin of them ready when I go over to visit.  Food just tastes better when someone makes it for you, especially if that person knows their way around a stick of butter like my Nonnie.

I usually have an acceptable level of self-control in regards to the desserts I make, but restraint is nearly impossible with these cookies. These cookies are are my kryptonite. Whenever I make them, or am lucky enough to snag a tin from the master herself, I force myself to ration them to make them last as long as possible. One for breakfast with coffee, two for dessert. Tin kept under lock and key. Trust me, it’s tough to not plow through the entire batch in a day or two. I ate the last one out from under Jordan’s nose and didn’t feel even the slightest tinge of remorse. That is how much I love these cookies.

Because they are a family specialty and because they are my favorites, I thought it only fitting to go all out for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap and send these to three lucky ladies, Rebecca, Laura and Willow.

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Nonnie’s Russian Teacakes
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped
powdered sugar, for rolling in after baking

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Beat the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in sifted powdered sugar and vanilla until well combined. Sift in flour and salt. Add pecans. Mix until a crumbly dough forms. Refrigerate for at least four hours, preferably overnight.

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Preheat your oven to 400° F. Roll dough into 1″ balls. Bake 12 – 14 minutes, until they are just starting to be a bit golden around the bottom. Roll in powdered sugar while hot. Let cool completely and roll again in powdered sugar.

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My Nonnie is an amazing cook. She rocks pot roast, turkey stuffing, crab cakes, berry pie, biscotti, not to mention her famous cheesecake, like nobody’s business. My russian teacakes couldn’t hold a candle to Nonnie’s until very recently, but my dedication to the art has paid off.  My secrets are revealed in this little puppet below. Watch it and learn how to make your cookies *almost* as good as Nonnie’s!

Packing cookies for transport is a serious thing. And serious things usually require a trip to Daiso, the Japanese version of the dollar store and one of my favorite places in San Francisco. There I picked up some adorable tins, mini cupcake papers and gingham wrapping paper—all in the interest of making sure my cookies arrived unharmed and as adorable as they are delicious. Once cooled, cookies were placed in tins, recipes were written up, and I packed the mailing boxes chock full with crumpled pages of an unread Vogue magazine to ensure my cookies didn’t get to jostled on their journey. Priorities.

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And now that I’ve exhausted you with all kinds of adorable, you really should make these cookies this holiday season.

-Emily
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lentil stew with sesame rice

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We didn’t really eat lentils much until a dinner at our friend Ted‘s house almost two years ago. He made a delicious Indian-spiced lentil dish and we got hooked—Ted’s lentils were that good. On the whole, lentils are tasty, cheap and versatile. I’ve been trying different recipes here and there, and though I cannot seem to reproduce Ted’s, this has been one of my favorites that I’ve tried.

Like most stews, this one only gets better as it sits. The flavors meld and develop over time and it goes from pretty good to really good in about two days. If you have the foresight, make it a day or two ahead of serving it. Also, the lemon really makes this stew. It adds such a perfect brightness to the dish. It might seem weird to put lemon slices in a stew before you simmer the thing for 30 minutes, but it turns out great. Don’t skip it!

Lentil Stew with Sesame Rice, adapted from The Kinfolk Table 
1 cup red or yellow lentils
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 – 1.5″ piece of ginger, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, depending on how spicy you like it
1 – 15 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 lemon, sliced into rounds
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
chopped cilantro, parsley or green onion for garnish

Rinse the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear.

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In a dutch oven, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin and cayenne and saute a few minutes more. Add the tomatoes, stock, lentils and lemon slices. Turn the heat to low and let the stew simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. If you’re eating your stew the next day, turn off the heat and stash your lentils in the fridge. If you’re eating that night, let the lentils simmer away until your rice is cooked.

For the rice
1 cup brown rice (or white rice, though the nuttiness of brown rice goes well with this stew)
2 cups water (or according to your rice cookers directions – rice cookers know all)
3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon salt

Now brown rice takes a long time to cook. Plan for double the cooking time of white rice so about an hour on the stove or two hours in a rice cooker. If your rice cooker has a self-timer, use it. If it doesn’t, start the rice before you start the stew or the second you walk in the door after work.

I’m mentioning this because you, like me, might not be familiar with the intricacies of brown rice. You might realize only after you get home from work ravenous at 8pm that brown rice has 2 hour (!) cooking time. This news might force you to lie in dismay on the floor while your knight in flannel and skinny jeans orders Japanese takeout. Are you sensing a theme?

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While your rice is cooking and stew is warming, toast the sesame seeds in a pan over low heat until they are fragrant. Once the rice is cooked, mix them into the rice, saving a few for garnish.

To serve, ladle the stew over the rice. Top with some cilantro, parsley, green onions or sesame seeds—whatever you’ve got in the fridge will do—and enjoy!

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-Emily

and it’s december

This past week was quiet, aside from several lovely, family-filled dinners. I had a few days off of work, Jordan was on break from school, and we took it easy. We surfed, we watched back to back episodes of The Mind of a Chef, we ate risotto.

Our schedules are such that it’s rare to have more than a day off in a row to spend together and so these few days were especially lovely, just the two of us. It’s nice to have a bit of a break from the pace of a normal week to really remember why you like someone, to steep in all of the good the things they bring into your life, to appreciate them a bit more deeply.

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Willow is now happily resting her head on my keyboard, which is convenient because all I really mean to say is that Jordan is the butter to my bread, and I’m tremendously grateful for him.

These photos are from Ocean Beach. I shot them on Thanksgiving Day before heading down to dinner at my grandparents. Instant film really captures the colors of the Sunset beautifully. (Maybe one day I’ll get a film scanner and stop taking photos of photos, maybe?).

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I hope you had a restful Thanksgiving full of family and friends and good food. It’s hard to believe it’s already December, but I’m glad. I’m ready to buy a tiny Christmas tree, bake a ton of cookies, and say goodbye to 2013.

-Emily