Thursday, November 24, 2011

Spice Krinkles: My Thanksgiving contribution

"What are you doing tomorrow? More importantly, what are you making?"

As I read Ali's email, I felt the beginning inklings of guilt. The very inklings I'd been ignoring for weeks as everyone else compared notes on whether to brine their turkeys or use cornbread in their stuffing or make sweet potato or pumpkin pie. I'd done a sufficiently good job of pretending like none of it mattered to me -- even defiantly defiling a traditionally decadent side dish by drowning it with quinoa and vegetation. I was laughing in the face of Thanksgiving and all it represented. I was refusing to participate in the over-the-top displays of gluttony and over-extended waistlines.

But then there it was in front of me.

"What are you making?"

I retracted from the keyboard on my computer. How could I tell Ali that I wasn't doing anything special -- that I was going to make the same Brussels sprouts salad I made last year on the day that should be my cooking Olympics. I couldn't tell her that my great Thanksgiving kitchen plan was to drain the contents of a bottle of wine while my parents and brothers slaved over the mashed potatoes, turkey and a disturbingly giblet-heavy gravy.

It's not that I hate Thanksgiving or slaving; I just hate (most) Thanksgiving food. And feel no desire to spend any time attending to that which I have no desire to personally ingest. I was going to make Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts that are not cloaked in bacon fat, that are not overloaded with butter, and that take less than 30 minutes to pull together.

"What are you making?"

I asked it of myself this time. Because deep down, buried underneath my hatred for green bean casserole and overly sweetened sweet potatoes, I secretly wanted to do something. Something different. Something seasonal, but not cliched. Spice krinkle cookies with chewy dried apricot bits and slivers of chocolate.

I baked them as soon as I got home yesterday, even braving the grocery store to get the $9 jar of ground cloves necessary for the recipe. I ignored the price tag. Just like I ignored the voice in my head that said that my 2 1/2 year old niece would declare them, "Too spiiicy!" and my brothers would likely shudder at the mention of the dried apricot.

But it didn't matter. I was baking them for me.

For my personal cooking Olympics. And for a Thanksgiving indulgence that's actually worth the over-the-top display of gluttony -- and the over-extended belly that goes with it.

Spice Krinkles with Dried Apricots and Dark Chocolate
A recipe mash-up of Amanda Hesser's Spice Krinkles in The New York Times Essential Cookbook and Heidi Swanson's Ginger Cookies in Super Natural Every Day

Notes: These cookies are everything I love in a ginger cookie - chewy and soft, and redolent with spices. The dried apricots and dark chocolate add additional dimension and texture. I made half the batch plain and half with the apricots and chocolate and after tasting the latter couldn't be bothered to sample the plain.

3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 room temperature egg
1/4 cup unsulphered molasses
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
6 ounces 60% cacoa chocolate, finely chopped or shaved
Granulated sugar

Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, beat softened butter with brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and molasses and beat together until well-incorporated, approximately 2 minutes.

Sift together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Gradually add to the butter-sugar mixture, stirring on the lowest speed. Stir until just combined, then add the apricots and chocolate, and stir for a couple beats more to incorporate.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place a good half cup or so of the granulated sugar in a flat bowl. Roll the dough into (shelled) walnut-sized balls. Roll through the sugar until coated on all sides. Once all cookies for that batch have been coated in sugar, re-roll them in the sugar. (The first roll of sugar usually partially dissolves into the dough so if you double roll the cookie, the second layer of sugar will remain on the outside.)

Place cookies two inches a part on a lined baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes (mine took around 8 minutes) or until just set and the tops are just starting to crack. Let sit 2 minutes before removing from the cookie sheet. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before serving or storing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Quinoa Stuffing: Something to be thankful for

A year ago I wasn't thankful for Thanksgiving.

A year ago I was finding out that I didn't get the job -- that there had been so many talented candidates and they'd had a terrible time deciding that I wasn't the one they wanted. In a sick twist of fate, I received the news the day after my brother found out he was the one for the position he'd also recently interviewed for. I was happy for him, of course, but in the dream scenario I'd played out over and over again, we'd both gotten the job. In the dream scenario, I'd be spending Thanksgiving celebrating with my family.

"So many talented candidates... offered it to someone else..."

The yellow walls of my then-office seemed to be caving in on me as I'd tried to get through the phone call and those words that kept echoing inside my head.

"Someone else."

"How am I going to tell them?" I'd thought when we'd hung up and I was free to let the tears I'd been holding in fall down my cheeks in hot, messy streaks. "How am I going to tell my family I failed again?"

I'd felt sick driving down to spend Thanksgiving with my parents two days later. I trudged in the door that Thursday morning without an ounce of holiday spirit. After my mom started my laundry for me, and I'd changed into the ugliest sweats I could find, I whimpered to my dad, "Can we make mimosas?"

One trip to the grocery story and six Valencia oranges later, we stumbled upon a new Hossfeld tradition. And I found a way to get through the day without pausing to think too hard about the question that had been simmering in the back of my mind since I'd received the news.

"What now?"

At the time, I couldn't have known that 6 months later I'd be starting a position at a different company -- the company that had been my first choice since I'd first decided I wanted to work in public relations. I couldn't have foreseen how happy and thankful I'd feel just one year later. Happy, thankful and relieved that I didn't get the job that I'd desperately tried to convince myself was the one.

I think back to that girl, sadly sipping mimosas on the couch in baggy sweatpants, and wish I could tell her, "Don't worry, it all works out how it's supposed to in the end."

So today, as I try to wrap my head around a bit of unsettling news I received this morning, I'm not going to let myself linger on the, "What now?" I'm going to be thankful for every blessing that has come my way this year. I'm going to be thankful that those suffocating yellow walls aren't still caving in on me.

And I'm going to be thankful for quinoa stuffing -- a way to make my favorite Thanksgiving side dish into a complete dinner.

Quinoa Stuffing with Chestnuts, Leeks, Mushrooms, and Apples
Inspired by recipe from Gourmet Magazine
Serves 6-8

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 1/2 cups water, divided
2 teaspoons Better than Bouillon vegetable base
1 cup red quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
3-4 leeks (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped (approximately 4 cups)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup Port wine
1 large Granny Smith apple, diced
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
14 ounces chestnuts, coarsely chopped (I purchased mine from Trader Joe's)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup loosely packed parsley, finely chopped
Freshly ground pepper
1 egg

Place dried porcini mushrooms in medium-sized bowl. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, and pour hot water over mushrooms. Soak for 30 minutes or until mushrooms are rehydrated. Remove the mushrooms and squeeze out any excess liquid back into the bowl. Decant the soaking liquid through a strainer, tilting it and pouring slowly to leave behind any grit in the bottom of the bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Rinse red quinoa well. Bring soaking liquid (will have reduced to about 1 1/2 cups), 1/2 cup of water, plus 2 teaspoons of vegetable base to a boil, then add the quinoa. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until liquid is not quite all absorbed (you'll want the quinoa to be a bit soupy since it will dry out some when it bakes).

While quinoa is cooking, heat large, nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add one teaspoon olive oil, swirling to coat the pan. Add the chopped shiitake mushrooms, and saute over medium heat, until mushrooms release their liquid and are fragrant. Remove and set aside.

Add the remaining two teaspoons of oil to the pan, then add the leeks. Saute over medium heat until wilty in appearance -- approximately 10-15 minutes. Stir in the butter, letting melt completely. Add the salt, pepper, thyme, apples, celery, Port wine, and continue to cook together until apple is tender, approximately 8 more minutes.

In a large bowl, combine apple-leek mixture with chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms, porcini mushrooms, red quinoa, and parsley. Stir until well-incorporated. Crack egg into a separate bowl and whisk yolk and white together. Add egg to the stuffing mixture, and stir again until well-incorporated. Dump contents into baking dish and cover with aluminum foil.

Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and serve immediately or refrigerate and reheat when ready to serve, adding additional liquid as needed. Stuffing will keep well in the fridge 3-4 days.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Port-and-Balsamic-Glazed Plums: I can just play

I couldn't decide if I looked stylish or like Steve Urkel.

For ten minutes I stood in front of the long mirror in my living room, awkwardly rotating in what amounted to the worst attempt at striking a Cupcakes and Cashmere pose ever. I grimaced at the ensemble, bearing my teeth like a pit bull readying to attack a squirrel. After several moments of said grimacing, I yanked off the built-in belt on my olive green high-waisted skirt and looped on a tan woven one instead.

"Now this will definitely be chic!" I told myself as I tucked my bright orange top back in.

Yet even then something looked slightly off to me. I still didn't see "chic" in the reflection in the mirror. I saw a girl trying to be chic. A girl trying to be effortlessly stylish. Which, of course, defeated the whole point of effortless style.

I love clothes and am perfectly capable of picking out a cute dress at Anthropologie, but I've never been the type of gal who knows exactly what to do with, say, a pair of bright red shorts or a denim collared shirt. I would never even buy a denim shirt. I would walk right past it and pick up a v-neck merino wool sweater in a color I already own. It would look perfectly acceptable on me, but wouldn't inspire the type of reaction I usually have when I see my friend Ashley in a new outfit. Usually along the lines of, "How on earth did you figure out how to put a denim shirt with a wool skirt and suede ankle boots?!"

It's like that scene in Good Will Hunting when Matt Damon explains why he's so wicked smaht to Minnie Driver. She wonders if he has a photographic memory, he responds with a metaphor about Beethoven. "He looked at a piano and it just made sense to him." He says.

I always feel like it's some sort of fluke when I put something stylish together or find a dress that is flattering enough to warrant a compliment. I don't feel like I'm the Beethoven of fashion. I feel like a girl who can't figure out if tucking a bright orange shirt into an olive green skirt makes her look like the female version of the nerdiest character in the "TGIF" line-up.

"Did I do that?"

While it would be fun to be that girl, I'm not too terribly worked up about it. Because even if I will never be able to wear a denim shirt without looking like a cowboy, I have other tricks up my sleeves (no pun intended). I can string words together without grammatical errors (usually), I can run for an hour (or more) without stopping, and I can (effortlessly) make quinoa topped with Port wine and balsamic roasted plums for breakfast on a random weekday morning.

I know that if I boil just shy of a half cup of water to the ratio of a quarter cup of quinoa, it will come out perfectly fluffy after 15 minutes. I know that if I roast plums in Port wine and balsamic vinegar, they will come out deliciously gooey and jam-like. I know that if I ladle them over said quinoa and douse the whole thing in 2% milk, I'll be so busy sighing with pleasure, I won't care that my outfit isn't chic.

This is what makes sense to me. When it comes to quinoa, when it comes to boozy sweet plums, I can just play.

Port-and-Balsamic-Glazed Plums
Makes approximately 1 cup (enough jammy goodness for 2 people)

Notes: Since plums are on the way out the door, feel free to experiment with the more seasonally apropos pears. While I make the plums for my quinoa, I also thing they'd be fantastic with oatmeal, over a bowl of vanilla ice cream (like pie without the crust!), with Greek yogurt and granola, or even served alongside roast chicken.

2-3 largish plums, sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
2 tablespoons Port wine
2 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly grease a glass baking dish (preferably with butter). Toss plums with Port wine and Balsamic vinegar, then spread out in a single layer in the baking dish. Bake, stirring once, until tender and caramelized, approximately 25-30 minutes. Serve warm.

For quinoa preparation: Rinse 1/4 cup of quinoa well to remove the bitter outer layer. Bring 1/2 cup minus 2 tablespoons water to boil in a small saucepan. Add the quinoa, a few good shakes of cinnamon, a shake of salt and a shake of nutmeg. Cover, reduce the hear, and simmer for 15 minutes untouched. Remove the lid, fluff with a fork, and add a splash of milk. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving. Top with plums and add milk in desired quantity.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Farro with Caramelized Winter Vegetables, Bacon and Fried Egg: Do Look

"Don't look, DiDi," She warned, her expression affixed into the very reaction she was trying to prevent me from having.

I laughed at my former college roommate's cringing face, flashing her my best attempt at an easy breezy smile. Ali had been sending me emails for the past two weeks leading up to my visit to her home in Chicago. Cryptic emails that read, "I'm nervous to cook for you. I'm worried you're going to think I'm gross."

Unsure what she meant by "gross," I pooh-poohed her concerns as completely unwarranted.

"I eat quinoa, tofu and vegetables most nights," I insisted, "I have simple tastes! I'm happy with just a big bowl of braised kale!"

I didn't realize what Ali really meant by "gross" until that moment in her kitchen when she dangled an entire cube of butter over a frying pan of melting leeks.

I tried to conceal my horror. “Well, there are 14 of us, so that’s really only like 2 teaspoons of butter a person!” I said brightly, while secretly thinking about the cup of heavy cream, generous pour of olive oil and the very unfibrous white bread that was also going into the chestnut, leek and apple stuffing.

I forced my lips into a smile. She forced hers into one too, then plopped the butter into the pan. It immediately began to bleed into the mass of gooey leeks, saturating every pleat and corner. I gulped and walked out of the kitchen, desperately fighting the urge to run over to the stove with a roll of paper towels to sop up the excess fat.

"Thank God I'm making a quinoa salad," I thought as I cemented myself to the couch, completely unaware that six hours later I'd be helping myself to my second helping of the "gross" stuffing during the dinner party -- butter, cream, oil, unfibrous bread and all.

As much as I enjoy my healthy dinners and bowls of simple braised kale, I'm not inclined to pass up a decadent dish that, like the stuffing, is worth every luscious calorie. I just usually prefer that decadence to be added sight unseen, which is why most of my indulgent dining goes on when I'm out at a restaurant. What happens in that kitchen, stays in the kitchen, and I'm quite content to dig into my meal blissfully unaware of just how many tablespoons of oil, butter and cream were used to sauce that oversized bowl of pasta.

But there are instances when I'm cooking at home that I do let my guard down and welcome the fat with an open mouth. Usually it involves a runny fried egg, Parmesan cheese or bacon.

Sometimes, like in the case of this farro with caramelized winter vegetables and ginger -- adapted from an orzo recipe on the Kitchn -- it involves all three.

I use the bacon fat to pan-roast my veggies, I reserve that same bacon fat to fry up my egg, and then I serve the whole thing topped with Parmesan and those crunchy nubs of rendered bacon bits. It gets even better when I break open the center of the egg, letting the yellow interior ooze into the cheese and bacon-studded farro. The caramelized vegetables and hearty whole grains don't stand a chance.

It's grossly good. Grossly decadent for a girl who is accustomed to bowls of kale. And totally worth looking at every glorious gram of fat that goes into it.

Farro with Caramelized Winter Vegetables, Bacon and Fried Egg
Adapted from The Kitchn
Serves 2

1/2 cup farro
1-2 ounces thick-cut bacon (about 2 thick slices)
1 medium sweet potato (about 1/2 pound), peeled and chopped into 1/4 - 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps cut into cubes
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cups chopped kale
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
Red pepper flakes
Sea salt

Rinse farro well. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the farro, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until water is absorbed -- approximately 25 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

Heat large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add the strips of bacon and cook until it releases its fat, flipping from side to side to ensure an equal rendering. Using a fork, remove bacon from pan and set on a paper towel to cool. Pour excess bacon fat into a small dish, leaving just enough to cover the base of the pan.

Add the cubed sweet potatoes to the pan, arranging in a single layer. Cook them over medium-high heat until they are beginning to caramelize and turn brown -- about 4 minutes. Stir about a bit and let continue to cook a few more minutes or until browned on all sides.

Turn down the heat a bit, and shove the sweet potatoes into a pile up against the side of the pan. Add the diced onions and sprinkle lightly with the sea salt (use a restrained hand as the bacon will already add a component of saltiness to the dish). Let the onions cook, stirring occasionally, until they are starting to caramelize and turn brown -- approximately 10 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic, ginger and a pinch of red pepper flakes, and let cook for a couple minutes together before shoving to the other side of the pan.

Finally, add the diced shiitake mushrooms and cook, stirring once, until they just start to release their liquid and turn brown. Add the farro and mix everything together. Then, while still over medium heat, add the vinegar and soy sauce, scraping up all the bits at the bottom of the pan. Stir together until well combined, then toss the kale over the top so the heat from the bottom lightly steams the greens while you are preparing the eggs.

Heat a large nonstick pan over medium high heat. Add enough of the reserved bacon fat so that the base of the pan is lightly greased. Carefully crack the two eggs into the pan. Sprinkle with pepper and let sit for a a couple minutes. The whites will likely run together -- that's ok. Once they have begun to set, use a rubber spatula to separate the eggs, then flip each over with a spatula to cook for another minute to two minutes.

While eggs are finishing in the pan, toss the kale into the farro mixture, then divide between two plates. Top with Parmesan and the rendered bits of bacon.

Happy Birthday to my dear friend Ali, who, for the record, is not gross at all.