a confession

Let me tell you a story:

Early Sunday evening, I realized I had not cooked anything worth reporting about the entire weekend. There hadn't been a holiday or potluck to necessitate it, and so I had been too concerned with just hanging out to actually make food. I'll leave it for tomorrow, I thought to myself.

So we fast forward to Monday evening, at the grocery store, where I still have no clue what I will bake, but being under the impression that it will indeed be baking, I grab some eggs and some sugar. I grab Joy of Cooking and open to brownies. Well. How serendipitous. I still have chocolate chips that need to be used up!

I mix everything up, thinking of the delicious brownies that will surely emerge from my oven in twenty-five minutes. Twenty-five minutes later, the brownies still seem somewhat...gooey. Not a problem, I'll just leave them in for a little bit longer while I eat my dinner. Twenty more minutes later, these brownies are still not quite the proper brownie consistency. They taste fine, but to taste them, I had to scoop the almost-brownies out with my finger.

Needless to say, I don't have a recipe for you today. Just a little story about how sometimes things in the kitchen just don't work (I think it was the aluminum foil Joy of Cooking told me to put in the tin, against my better judgment), or about how maybe I just can't cook with chocolate, like that cake I attempted after yoga that was also chocolate-based. And hey, maybe next week I will have some successful brownies for you. Mmm, brownies.



really do it up

A few weeks ago, I was talking to Andy about friend groups - about how we keep looking for these and even if we find them, they usually fall apart in some manner. When the two of us were in our third year of college, we had such a friend group - there were fallings-out and breaking-ups, though, and those of us that remained friends through fourth-year and graduation are now spread all over the country.

When I moved to DC, I was lucky enough to fall in with another group of people. And lucky enough that fallings-out are not what separates us, just graduate programs slowly plucking people away. (Still, if I think too long about another little group falling apart, I get sad. Anyway.)

Daniel had a large part to do with that. It was his birthday this weekend, and since it has been somewhat lackluster in years past, we decided to really do it up this year. We surprised him with laser tag (which, let me tell you, is more fun than I thought it would be), and followed up with a small potluck.

Daniel's request for this was that it be something delicious and new. This is what I had to go on: Jo said she was making some sort of cabbage dish, and Andy was making mac and cheese. So what did I do? I broke out my Flavor Bible. Seriously, this book is amazing. It lists all sorts of ingredients and what their "flavor affinities" are - so I looked up "cabbage" and went from there. This led to searching through all my cookbooks - and all the food blogs I read - for onion recipes.

It took a while to find the right one - and I knew it was the right one because my mind had fixated on it, so even when I kept searching, I couldn't stop thinking about this one. Even though it was a little ambitious, it wound up being just right.

Onion and Goat Cheese Tart

I would not have been able to do this without my brilliant sous-chef, C.T. Well, I suppose I could have, but it would have been much more stressful. There's a lot to do here, but trust me, the end result is worth it.

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
5 tbsp butter, room temperature
1/6 c. Cheddar cheese

2 onions
3/4 c. young goat cheese
2 eggs
1 tbsp light cream
1/3 c. Cheddar cheese
1 tbsp nutmeg
salt & pepper

Makes 8 tarts.

First make the dough by adding the butter to the flour in a medium bowl. Mix with your hands until the mixture looks like bread crumbs. Add the cheese and enough cold water to make a dough.

Chop and carmelize the onions. This should take about 20-25 minutes, and they should be a light brown.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add in: cream, Cheddar, nutmeg, and goat cheese, beating well after each addition. Season with salt and pepper. When the onions are carmelized, add them to the mix.

Roll out the dough (if too sticky, add flour) and cut into rounds. I was using 4-inch tart pans and a 4-inch cutter that I macguyvered into working. Line the tart pans with the dough and bake for about 10 minutes.

Pour the mixture in and bake for another 20 minutes. Enjoy!


daniel(le): starting the new year off right

Here is something I've learned about myself: I am much more of a baker than I am a cook. Scones? No problem. Cookies? Easy. Cake? Sure, except at midnight after yoga. Bread? Conquered.

Now, this isn't to say that I'm awful at cooking, like I previously thought. It's just that I am usually cooking only for myself, and at the end of a workday, I don't want to get much more labor-intensive than pasta and some fake-meat sauce. (I do have Judith Jones' The Pleasures of Cooking for One on my reading list, though, so we'll see if that changes anything.)

It's just that, I don't know, I prefer working with flour and sugar and eggs, I guess. I even like kneading. I like feeling the dough take shape under the wooden spoon, and then in my hands. There is something very satisfying to me about baking. I love watching things rise - either from yeast working its magic or just from the heat in the oven.

So Daniel and I make a pretty good team, as I've probably mentioned before, seeing as how he is really quite good at all of that cooking stuff. And when we get an idea into our heads, we make it happen.

And, if I may say so myself, usually to outstanding success.

This time it started with na'an. I suggested that I might try my hand at it to Daniel, and the beginnings for a fantastic Indian dinner were underway. We picked a day, gathered ingredients, and set to work. Na'an can be a little tricky - it requires a baking stone, or at least a baking sheet standing in for one, and very high heat. It took a deal of teamwork to get the dough into and out of the oven. (Big props to C.T. and Johanna!) The end result, however, really does pull the meal together - plus, who doesn't love fresh-baked bread of any kind? (Monsters, that's who.)

Garlic Na'an
adapted from Joy of Cooking

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
3/4 cup yogurt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp water
2 tbsp butter, melted

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, salt, and yeast. Add in the yogurt, olive oil, and water. Mix well until a ball of dough starts to form. Turn out onto a flat surface to knead for 10 minutes. If the dough has problems coming together or staying together, knead in a teaspoon or two of yogurt. This should help - if not, add a teaspoon or two of water. Transfer the dough to a slightly oiled bowl and let rise for 1 1/2 hours.

Move one of the oven racks to the lowest rung. Preheat oven to 475°F. If you're using a baking stone, go ahead and throw that in. If, however, you are like me and are using a baking sheet, wait until five minutes before you place the na'an in to put the sheet in on the lowest rack, upside down.

Punch down the dough and split into four pieces. Roll each piece into a bowl and let rise another 10 minutes. Use a rolling pin to flatten each piece into an oval. Brush the melted butter over them and sprinkle the chopped garlic on top. It's time to place them in the oven! I did two at a time, since that's as many as I could fit on the sheet without them touching.

Carefully remove and let cool before enjoying!


a belated festivus post

So, if you're here reading this, chances are you know about my deep and abiding love for Italy. I went on a whim, instead of transferring, to stay in a castle and study poetry. Luckily my German classes paid off, since the castle was in the northern part of the country, up in the Alps in a land that was - like me - more Germanic than Italian. I was the translator for our group; my German got a practical work-out talking to shop owners and buying bread at the Saturday market.

The twelve of us studied with the offspring of Ezra Pound, and during the week our breakfasts and lunches were taken care of (and dinner, on workdays). As I've mentioned before, being polite has always trumped my pickiness, and because of this I tried all sorts of things that I would not have otherwise. Like wild boar.

Spätzle became my favorite food there, one I sought out in restaurants and hoped B. (who made our lunches and work-day dinners) would make again. I found it in the supermarket back in Greensboro, when I got back to the States, but something about buying it from the store like that seemed wrong. I knew it wouldn't live up.

This food has been on my mind for almost four years. (Also, jeez, how has that much time passed?) Once I got The Joy of Cooking, I darted back to the index to see if they had a spätzle recipe. And of course, they did. I still didn't make it. I'm not sure what I was waiting for, but I needed an occasion to make it. A colander, too, since traditionally you push the dough through the colander; unfortunately the holes on my colander were too small. Alas and alack.

Finally, the time was right. I hosted last year's (!) Festivus party, sating both my desire to make spätzle and my desire to have a dinner party. My spätzle turned out more misshapen than I remembered them in Europe, but it didn't really matter as none of my guests had heard of the dish before. (I also wasn't able to get any pictures of the process since I was more concerned with getting everything ready at the same time, but this way you get that goofy picture of me four years ago!)

Plus, if I may say so, it was pretty delicious! Food was served and everyone went silent, except for the occasional mmmms.

adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

This dish is somewhere between dumplings and noodles. It's a fantastic dish for winter, because it's fairly hearty and filling, and it'll warm you up. Trust me, those Alpine folk know how to keep you warm. And well-fed.

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of black pepper
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
pat of butter

Combine flour, salt, nutmeg, pepper, eggs, and milk in a medium bowl, mixing well. The dough is going to be pretty sticky. Bring some water to a boil. This is the point where, if you have a colander with large enough holes, you could push the dough through them. If you don't, however, you can just drop the dough into the water with a small spoon.

Simmer and cook for about five minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the spätzle to a serving dish. As you're doing so, add butter every now and then to melt in the dish.