December 2014

taipei

I’ve been back from Taipei for over a month, but I’m finally getting myself together to write and to share some of the photos I took. I decided to shoot film on this trip, and I’m so glad I did. The tones of the film captured the atmosphere of the city so perfectly. I’d forgotten how satisfying and surprising it is to get your film back from the shop and look through what you shot.

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Honestly, the trip was a blur. A stunning, delicious blur. Our schedule was packed from morning until night. We got by taking naps in the car most days. We packed so much into a short time, jet lag be damned. It was unlike any trip I’ve ever taken.

This was my first trip to Asia, and my first trip to a country where I couldn’t decipher any of the language, written or spoken. Hello and thank you are all I’ve got in Chinese. It’s such a different experience to visit a place where your brain doesn’t work in the usual ways. It was freeing to give up trying to figure anything out and just let the experience of the place wash over me. I felt like a kid, eyes wide, taking it all in, amazed because everything was so new and unfamiliar and beautiful. It is truly lovely to just follow along, knowing you’ll be taken care of and whatever comes next will likely top what was before it. I enjoyed every minute of it.

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Taipei is a beautiful city. And food city. I’ve never eaten so well in a single week. We had soup dumplings, traditional Taiwanese food, mind-blowing sushi, modern Cantonese food, Taiwanese noodles, Japanese barbecue, hot pot, Taiwanese street food, ramen, and so much tea. Chaz, our generous host, knows how to eat and he left no stone unturned. We’d sit down at a restaurant and food would appear at the table, more food than five people could possibly eat, and we’d dig in. I ate it all, and it was incredible.

Taiwanese food is a very fresh, clean cuisine. The seasoning is simple, a little ginger, soy, green onion, maybe a little chili if it’s a spicy dish. The focus seems to be on letting the ingredient—the meat, the seafood, the vegetable—really shine. Not to mention the quality and diversity of the seafood is unlike anything you can get in the United States. I had a clam soup made with only clams, water, ginger and green onion, and it was perfection. And the noodles. Oh the noodles. It was an education.

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We also visited museums, museums of historical Chinese artifacts and modern art museums. There were food markets, night markets, tea houses and temples. I rode a gondola plastered with Hello Kitty stickers into the mountains, and the fastest elevator in the world to the 88th floor of Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings ever built. I went to a five story electronics market and sang private room karaoke. Don’t Cry for Me Argentina might have been my best performance. I took baths and watched Project Runway at 3 in the morning when I couldn’t sleep from the jet lag.  Even looking at the photos, proof that it all happened, it still feels like a dream.

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I feel incredibly thankful to have had the chance to take such a phenomenal trip. Not everyone works with such good people every day, and even fewer are treated to trips around the world. Such friendship and generosity is not lost on me. I’m sure I’ll share more stories from the trip as they come back to me, and as they work their way into my cooking.

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And, before you go take a nap or a shot of whiskey to revitalize yourself after finishing this epic post, happy holidays, merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah! I hope your days are filled sharing food you love with the people you love. There isn’t anything better.

Xo, Emily

christmas cookie day

Every year, I host a Christmas cookie party. We bake and decorate, drink mimosas, eat take out tacos from spot next door. 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. I learned from the best, and try to recreate it every year in considerably less kitchen real estate.

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This year, our friend Kelly brought a new technique to the table. She made her own cookie cutters! Using this tutorial, she made a cookie cutter based on her Boston terrier puppy Nibbler and another based on the artist Keith Haring’s work.  Serious cookie dedication. We were all impressed. Go Kelly!

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There were also Laura Bush’s famous cowboy cookies, whole wheat chocolate chip sablés, peanut butter and jelly sandwich cookies, pecan sandies, and double chocolate biscotti for my Food Blogger Cookie Swap friends. We baked from 11 am to 8 pm, which is precisely why Cookie Day is one of my favorite holiday traditions—pure dedication to the art of cookie making combined with very little restraint. I cannot wait for next year.

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Granny’s Sugar Cookies, from Nonnie
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)
a few tablespoons of milk
food coloring

Sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl. Start with 3 tablespoons of milk 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. I’d recommend getting a pack of cheap paint brushes so you can get real precise with your icing.

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Double Chocolate Biscotti, adapted from my Nonnie’s recipe
2 eggs
2 egg whites
1 cup neutral oil, like canola
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup flaked coconut
1 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like Guittard)
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the eggs, egg whites and oil. Add in the sugar, vanilla, salt, and flaked coconut, and mix to combine.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour and baking power.  In a sauté pan, brown the nuts over medium heat. Pour the nuts into a food processor and pulse a few times, add the chocolate chips and pulse a few more times. This will chop both up a bit, and also start to melt the chocolate. Add the nut and chocolate mixture to the stand mixer, and mix to combine. Slowly add the flour mixture on low speed, and mix until all of the flour is incorporated.

Divide the dough into four parts. Scoop the dough onto four pieces of plastic wrap. Wrap in plastic and shape into a flat log shape. This takes a little maneuvering, but you can make it happen. Let the dough chill overnight.

Preheat your oven to 325° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and place two biscotti logs on each baking sheet whole. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and using a sharp knife, cut the logs into strips. Spread the strips apart and turn them onto their sides. Return to the oven and cook for about 20 more minutes. You want the cookies to be dry and crunchy. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Once cooled, melt about 12 oz of chocolate in a double boiler. Dip the bottom of each biscotti into the chocolate and then let them rest on their sides for the chocolate to harden, depending on the temperature and humidity, this can take an hour or so. You can also put them in the fridge to quicken the hardening process. Store in an airtight container.

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Cowboy Cookies, by Laura Bush
These are Hilary’s go to cookie. They are huge, chewy and delicious. She says she likes to keep a roll of dough in her freezer and slice of a cookie or two when she needs a pick me up. I’m digging that idea.

Pecan Sandies, by Thomas Keller
Like all things Thomas Keller, these are lovely and refined. Kelly says that the batch is on the small side, and you should double it if you’re not making other types of cookies.

Whole Wheat Sablés with Chocolate Chips, adapted from Orangette
I follow this recipe, but swapped 2/3 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips for the cocoa nibs. I’d love to try them with nibs, I’m sure they’d be lovely. I also may have let mine cook a few minutes long, but that added a pleasant browned butter flavor, so no harm done.

Peanut Butter Cookies, from Sally’s Baking Addiction
Robin made a double batch and then sandwiched some jelly between two cookies. I’m working with a creative bunch here.

Almond Spice Cookies, from Epicurious
These were a bit of a challenge. We used them as roll out cookies for decorating, but they required quite of bit of persistence and wrangling on the behalf of Kelly to be shaped into submission. They’re tasty, but I think we’ll try something else next year.

-Emily

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almond cake and tea

I got back from my trip to Taiwan a week before Thanksgiving, and time has just been barreling forward since.  Work, work, work, Thanksgiving, weekend of wedding scheming with my mom, radio appearance, work, work, work, work, work, Christmas Cookie Day, try recipes from a friend’s new cookbook, back to work. I’ve got a feeling we’ll be moving at this clip through the end of the year.

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But, somewhere in there, I did have time to make this cake. This slow down and savor the moment with a cup of tea cake. Neither Jordan or I are big fans of almond flavored desserts typically, but this cake is really perfection. The crumb is tight, but not too dense, and not at all dry. The almond flavor is just right. Not enough to taste fake, just enough to say, ‘yes sir, I am an almond cake. Pleased to be your breakfast’.

I love a cake that transitions effortlessly from dessert to breakfast. Some days mustering up the strength to get out of the door is tough. Cake helps with that. This cake is my breakfast cake ideal, and I’ve been thinking about it every breakfast since I made it a few weeks ago. It feels almost premature to say this one is being promoted to one of my go-to recipes, but I’m going to put it out there. It really is that good.

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In Taiwan we drank a lot of tea. It was on of my favorite parts of the trip. We’d slow down from the marathon eating and sightseeing (which also was an absolute treat), to sit down in a quiet place and share some tea. There’s a whole ritual associated with having tea in Taiwan, which the server would walk us through every time before passing the responsibility of tea-brewer onto someone in our group. Quite possibly this whole routine was just putting on a show for tourists, but I loved it nonetheless. Sitting in a quiet tea shop in a jet-lagged haze, misty air blowing in through the open windows, the business of the city moving along outside, drinking delicately brewed tea, letting the experiences of the trip wash over me. It was good.

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I tried to recreate the experience at home with Jordan, but it really wasn’t the same. I’m not quite as experienced a tea preparer as those tea house employees. Though Jordan did say that the tea tasted better out of the little tea set I brought back from Taiwan than out of our regular mugs. So that’s something. Plus, there was almond cake. Where there is tea, there should also be almond cake.

Almond Cake, from Orangette and adapted from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 (7-ounce) tube almond paste, cut into small pieces
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Butter and then line a 9″ springform pan with parchment paper, and then butter the paper. In a small bowl, mix together sour cream and baking soda. In another bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the almond paste a few pieces at a time, and beat on medium speed for 8 minutes. Yes this is a long time, but want the almond paste to be nicely incorporated—no chunks.

Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, and mix until incorporated. Beat in the almond extract and the sour cream mixture. Reduce mixer speed to low, and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter a couple of times to make sure that all of your flour has been mixed in.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it evenly. Bake for about 1 hour – the cake will be a medium brown color and pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack, and cool the cake in its pan. Slice and serve with a dollop of whipped cream for dessert, or a cup of coffee or tea for breakfast.

-Emily