A few days ago, Ben came home from work to be greeted by shrieks of joy from the children. They lept into his arms, then immediately threw themselves to the ground in the living room where they began their usual game of “tackle.”
And then it struck me: those were the first giggles I had heard from the children all day. Oops. Note to self: Try to make the children laugh at least once before Ben gets home from work. And maybe try not to be so wretched all day long. Oiy. It’s sad but true. I have been such a terror lately. Ben often consoles me by reminding me of something Amy Chua says to her husband in her Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother book: “You can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games.” This always makes me laugh, but as I have no aspirations of being a Tiger Mom, I think I have some things to work on.
Anyway, for Ben’s Father’s Day gift this year, I made him a big batch of waffle mix to facilitate his breakfast making for the children and decorated an empty Quaker Oats canister with a personalized label, which you can download and use, too, if you are still looking for a Father’s Day gift. (Materials and instructions are below.)
As five of us celebrated a quiet Thanksgiving down here in Virginia, the rest of my family journeyed north to Vermont to the shores of Lake Champlain for a wild gathering with my aunt and uncle. Upon returning, my mother gave me the full report: Of course, the turkey, which she had prepared, was over-cooked, gross and inedible but roasted Jerusalem artichokes saved the occasion as well as an orange-and-ricotta pound cake that her sister prepared twice during their five-day visit. Read More
I received my first minted card in the mail three years ago just before Christmas. Upon opening it, I remember holding the card in my hands, rubbing my fingers over its thick paper stock, staring in awe at the quality of the printing, flipping it over to inspect the details and finally propping it up on my desk to admire the design. I have been in love with the company ever since — I look forward to the unveiling of their holiday photo card collection every fall — but what I most love about the company is how it operates: every product sold on the site is the result of a design challenge entered by a community of independent designers living all over the world. Read More
Nearly a decade ago, a pan of brownies emerged from my oven that changed everything. Before discovering this recipe, I couldn’t stash enough brownie recipes away, particularly those sounding most outrageous, the ones loaded with chocolate, the more varieties the better.
What inspired me to give this recipe a go, I do not know. There is nothing eye-catching about the ingredient list — unsweetened cocoa powder is the sole chocolate product — or intriguing about the method — it’s a simple two-bowl, no-mixer job. But I did, and while I know there are lots of fantastic brownie recipes out there, I have not tried another recipe since. And every time I bite into one of these brownies, I wonder in amazement how unsweetened cocoa powder on its own can impart such a deep, intense chocolate flavor all the while producing a fudgy, moist and utterly delicious brownie.
I still do not know its secret. I am no food scientist. But over the years I have gotten better at eyeing up recipes and am not so eager to bite at the ones sounding most outrageous. In cakes and quickbreads, it’s ingredients such as buttermilk and oil (as opposed to butter) and unsweetened natural cocoa powder that catch my attention. So when I saw the ingredient list in this chocolate cake recipe on epicurious, I suspected it would be a good one. (The 1,517 positive reviews and blue ribbon decoration may have played a role in that, too.) Read More
I know it’s hard to think about the holiday gift-giving season when it’s 1000 degrees outside, but if you’re the type that likes to be prepared, I suppose it’s never too early. Here’s a fun little project to undertake the next time you find yourself trapped indoors this summer: homemade vanilla extract.
To start, you’ll need some vanilla beans. IndriVanilla, supplier of Fair Trade bourbon vanilla beans at beyond reasonable prices, is a great source. Since discovering them back in January, I have reintroduced vanilla beans to my pantry and have never been happier.
Next, a little alcohol. I made two batches with what I had on hand — vodka and rum — but the type of alcohol can vary from Frangelico to butterscotch schnapps to spiced rum to amaretto, all of with which Whitney Olsen, owner of IndriVanilla, has experimented. With 50+ variations of extract now bottled, Whitney has learned a few things, namely that the longer the beans steep and the more that are used, the stronger the vanilla extract will taste. And, moreover, because sugars in lower-proof alcohols can inhibit steeping, the higher the proof of the alcohol — 80 or above is ideal — the better the extract will taste.
And that’s really it. With vanilla beans and alcohol on hand, you are all set to start making homemade extract. The process couldn’t be more simple: heat alcohol just to its boiling point; pour it over split vanilla beans; let the extract steep for at least six weeks.
If you feel like turning your homemade vanilla into gifts, here’s what you’ll need:
• Bottles. I, for once, was practical (thanks to guidance by Whitney) and didn’t order cute cork-topped bottles, which leak and apparently can impart unpleasant odors. I ordered 4-oz. amber glass bottles on Uline. Each bottle holds about 7 tablespoons (just under 1/2 cup) of liquid. At $1.05 a piece, my 24 bottles cost $25.20 and shipping brought the total to $36.81, making the ultimate cost per bottle $1.53.
• Labels. There are lots of great resources for printing labels at home, but I love Moo.com, so I ordered my labels there. If you like the look of these, I’ve enclosed links to the files below, which you can download and order from Moo, too. There are three color options, and depending on when you get around to making the vanilla, you can choose a label with the appropriate 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, 5- or 6-month-aged stamp.
Got it? Get crackin’. At the very least, order some beans and pick up some alcohol. The bottling and labeling can wait for a day this winter when you might find yourself trapped indoors again with any luck snow falling outside your windows.
Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated; much guidance sought from owner of IndriVanilla, Whitney Olsen, who happens to be the nicest person on the planet and is always willing to offer advice with anything vanilla related. Check out her FB page for recipes and ideas.
• For the Indonesian vanilla beans (the variety IndriVanilla supplies), Whitney believes that rum complements the flavor of the vanilla best.
• For strong extract ready to use in 6-8 weeks, you’ll want to use a minimum of 3 luxury vanilla beans or 4 ultra-premium vanilla beans or 5 gourmet vanilla beans per 8 oz. of alcohol.
• Steep for a minimum of 6 weeks, but the longer the better.
• Cheesecloth or coffee filters work well for straining if you wish to do so.
Cooks Illustrated proportions:
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup alcohol of choice (Cooks Illustrated used Smirnoff vodka; Whitney recommends something with a proof of at least 80)
1. Split a fresh bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds and split pod in a sealable container such as a mason jar. Meanwhile, heat the alcohol just to a boil, then pour over seeds and pod. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Seal the container and store at room temperature for at least 6 weeks. Strain the extract, if desired (I didn’t), and store in a cool, dark place. The extract should keep indefinitely.
Labels for Download: Order a pack of 50 on Moo for $16.99
Here in the Stafford household we’re feeling particularly festive. Ella has been dressed in her costume since Monday. Yesterday I made candy corn-topped mini cupcakes. And today I found myself making pressed-leaf gift tags. What can I say? The spirit is strong this year.
The truth is that I made these treats against all of my instincts. I mean, it seems a little unnecessary to bake a peanut butter cup into a cupcake to then top it with more candy. Right? I’d so much rather just eat a brownie. Or a good cookie. Or the peanut butter cup on its own.
That said, these mini cupcakes are festive and fun, and if you’re looking for a way to spruce up your Halloween dessert spread, these triple-treat bites would certainly fit in. Feeling crafty? Adorn a clear plastic goodie bag with a pressed-leaf gift tag (see below) to make lovely little party favors.
Everyone and their mother has a recipe for pumpkin bread. This happens to be my mother’s recipe — not sure where it originates beyond her — and it is incredibly delicious. Made with oil not butter, the batter comes together in minutes. I mixed mine the night before baking, and used mini loaf pans because, well because, I think they’re cute, and I suppose because I’m getting excited for the impending homemade-gift-giving holiday season.
What else can I say here? Like many of you I suspect, I am consumed by all things pumpkin at the moment…can’t stop dreaming about pumpkin muffins, cheesecake, soup, lattes, fritters, gnocchi, gnudi, yadi yadi yadi. Tis the season! If you don’t have a recipe for pumpkin quick bread up your sleeve, this one is a winner. Happy fall!
Yield = 2 standard loaf pans or 5 mini loaf pans
2 c. sugar
1 c. canola oil
16 oz. canned pumpkin (not pie filling)
3/4 cup water
3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves (optional — I didn’t have any so didn’t use any)
1/2 tsp. nutmeg (or less — I used about 1/4 tsp.)
1/2 tsp. allspice (optional — I didn’t have any so didn’t use any)
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease loaf pans with butter or non-stick spray.
2. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat sugar and oil together until blended. Add eggs one at a time mixing after each addition. Add pumpkin purée and water and mix until blended.
3. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice. Add to the mixer and mix only until just incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pans.
4. Bake for about an hour (if using standard loaf pans) but start checking for doneness after 45 minutes — the loaves are done when center springs back when touched. Note: When using the small pans, the loaves should be done in under 45 minutes. I started checking after 30 minutes, and the loaves were done after about 35 minutes (or maybe a minute or two longer…lost track of time.)
I love these disposable mini loaf pans, too. They are so pretty! Wonderful for gift giving. I actually baked the loaves in my mini pans before transferring them to the disposable pans — I was thinking this would be less messy —but…oopsidasies, the disposable pans are a wee bit smaller than my non-disposable pans. I kind of had to squeeze the baked loaf to get it to fit. It worked out fine, but next time I’d just as soon bake the loaf in the disposable pan. That’s what it’s for after all, right?
…it’s always nice to have some baked goods on hand. Here are four that never fail to please.
1. Granola. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t welcome a bowl of homemade granola with milk or yogurt topped with fresh berries or sliced banana first thing in the morning. This also is my go-to gift for a host or hostess and my most-often requested recipe. (Note: I’ve made a few changes, which are listed below. It’s now much less fussy, a teensy bit less sweet, and still just as delicious.)
2. Biscotti. I’ve never had anyone pass on a homemade biscotti with their morning beverage. These are perfect with coffee, tea, hot chocolate…anything really.
3. Salted Oatmeal Cookies. While I consider numbers 1 and 2 to be essentials, it doesn’t hurt to have a jar filled with these salted oatmeal cookies on hand either. I’ve been making this Washington Post recipe since 2007, when my teensy grandmother snipped it out of her Wednesday paper and saved it for me. She was so wonderful. A perfect balance of sweet and salty, these cookies are one of my favorites. Your guests will adore them (and you), too.
4. Honey Whole Wheat Toasting Bread. Finally, if you’re feeling particularly domestic, it’s especially nice to have a couple of loaves of honey whole wheat bread kicking around. Made with leftover coffee, this good-old-fashioned recipe — no no-knead-super-slow-rise tricks here — hails from the Bakery Lane cookbook. I wish I had a photograph of my mother’s copy, now held together by rubber bands and twine. It’s filled with goodies.
Notes: I’ve posted the granola and biscotti recipes before but I have updated them a tiny bit. I am preferring things less sweet these days, so I’ve cut back the sugar in the biscotti by a quarter cup, and I don’t bother with the egg wash and sugar glaze before baking — the biscotti are just as delicious. And for the granola, I rarely bother making the candied almonds and cashews, (though they do add a nice touch if you plan on giving the granola as a gift.) I also have cut back the amount of coconut a teensy bit and replaced that amount with more sliced almonds. Again, the granola is just as delicious.
Yield = About 30
Note: My original recipe, which is a little more fussy, offers instructions for folding in pistachios and dried cherries as well as for dipping in white or dark chocolate. It can be found here.
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1¼ cups sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup sliced almonds
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugars until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add the vanilla and blend again.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the sliced almonds. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer and blend on low-speed until just combined.
3. Remove the dough from the mixer and divide into two equal portions. Plop one portion onto a parchment paper- or Silpat- lined baking sheet. Form into a longish rectangle about an inch high. Repeat with remaining log. If you have the time, chill logs for an hour. (At this point, too, the logs can be wrapped in plastic wrap and chilled for as long as 3 days (maybe longer…never tried it).)
4. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the logs are evenly golden brown. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully transfer logs to a cutting board. Cut the log crosswise on a slight bias with a sharp knife or a bench scraper. Lay the cut slices on their sides on the baking sheet. Return pan to the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove pan from oven. flip biscotti over, and return to the oven for another five minutes. Remove from the oven and let the biscotti cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooking rack. Cool completely.
Notes: As I mentioned above, I have blogged about this recipe before. The original recipe is much fussier, but take a look if you feel like adding more nuts and dried fruit in the mix.
4 cups (14 oz.) rolled oats
a scant 2 cups (6 oz.) unsweetened or sweetened, shredded coconut*
a heaping 2 cups (7.25 oz.) sliced almonds*
½ cup (4 oz.) vegetable oil
2/3 cup (7.25 oz) honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon sea salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
*Sorry for the imprecise measurements here. Originally, I used 2 cups of coconut and 2 cups of almonds. I now use my digital scale when I measure out these dry ingredients, so the 6 oz. of coconut (which comes out to be 1.8 cups) is accurate and the 7.25 oz. of almonds is accurate, but I’ve never used my dry measuring cups to figure out precise dry measurements. If this is your first time making this and you want to play is safe, just measure out 2 cups of each the coconut and the almonds. Next time around you will know how to adjust the quantities to get the sweetness right for you. Also, I recently (March 2013) stopped using sweetened shredded coconut in this recipe. Read this post if you are curious as to why.
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut and almonds and gently stir or toss with your hands to mix well.
2. In a small saucepan, combine oil, honey, vanilla and salt and heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring to emulsify slightly. (Note: Sometimes I don’t even bother heating this — I just whisk it really well and then pour it over. It is a little harder to incorporate into the oats if you don’t heat it up, but I hate having to clean an extra pan. A quick zap in the microwave might be a good option? I don’t own one so I can’t advise on time.) Pour the oil mixture over the oat mixture and with a spatula stir until evenly coated.
3. Spread mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir well, bringing the oat mixture closest to the edges into the center and pushing the center mixture towards the edges. Return to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes, checking when 1 to 2 minutes remain. Be very careful at the end: the coconut will burn easily, leaving the granola with a bitter, burnt taste. Remove pan from the oven, place on a cooling rack and leave undisturbed until completely cool, at least one hour.
This cookie is all about the oats, without much spice to interfere with their earthy taste. It’s also a great dough to make ahead and keep on hand to bake off a few when the urge hits. Refrigerate the dough for several days. The cookies can be stored in an airtight tin for up to 1 week.
Makes 18 cookies
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon table salt (This is my addition — the original recipe calls for no salt in the actual cookie, but I think it needs it.)
2 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sea salt, for sprinkling
(Notes: I’ve adjusted the order of instructions. If you’d like to see the original recipe, click here.)
1. In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter for a few minutes on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the stand mixer bowl and add the sugars, beating until the mixture is well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and table salt. Stir in the oats, and set aside.
2. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs and vanilla extract, mixing until incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary and mixing just until they are incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the dough for at least an hour before baking. (Notes: I like to portion my cookies before chilling because the dough is easier to work with. I also weigh my cookies — I know, it’s totally anal — but doing this does ensure even baking of the cookies. I portion this dough into 1.25 oz balls and then chill all of the balls for at least an hour before baking.)
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
4. Form the dough into golf ball-size balls and place about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. (I bake 6 at a time and flatten the balls slightly when placing them on the cookie sheet.) Sprinkle sea salt generously on top of each ball of dough. Bake 1 sheet at a time for 11 to 15 minutes or until the cookies are puffed and beginning to turn golden, being careful not to overbake. (Notes: Bake one batch and let cool completely before deciding on the time. I find that these cookies really continue cooking (like most cookies) once they’ve been removed from the oven, and these really are best when the center of the cookies is on the chewy/doughy side. I find 13 minutes to be about right.) Place the cookie sheet on a wire rack to cool completely.
Honey Whole Wheat Bread
Yield= 2 traditional loafpan-sized loaves
2 + 2/3 cups coffee (at the most — I used less than 1 cup of coffee in this batch and substituted water for the remainder)
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup honey
1 package active dry yeast
1 T. kosher salt
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
4 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups all-purpose flour
1. Combine coffee, the 2/3 cup water and the honey in a large bowl or in a large bowl of a stand mixer. Stir yeast into 1/2 cup of lukewarm water. Let stand until dissolved then add to coffee mixture.
2. Whisk together salt, cornmeal and flours. If using a stand mixer, add all of the dry mixture to the wet mixture. Knead for about 8 minutes or until the dough is smooth and wrapped around the dough hook. If kneading by hand, stir in about half of the dry mixture. Add more and more of the mixture until you need to turn the dough out onto a work surface to get it all incorporated. Knead for about 8 minutes or until the dough is smooth.
3. Place dough in a large bowl greased with a light layer of olive oil. Turn dough to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel (run a tea towel under hot water, ring it out, then place on top of bowl) and let rise until doubled in bulk (this may take as long as 2 hours). (Tip: If you are looking for a warm spot to let your dough to rise, turn your oven to its highest setting and let it warm for 1 minute. Turn off the heat, place your tea towel-covered bowl of dough inside and close the oven door.)
4. Once dough has doubled, punch it down. Grease two standard sized loaf pans generously with butter. Divide dough into two equal portions. Quickly shape each portion into a loaf-like mass and plop into prepared pans. Let rise until dough reaches just below the top of the pan. This may take as long as 45 minutes. (I like to place my loaf pans on top of the oven while it preheats. This usually speeds up the second rising.) Preheat oven for 375ºF.
5. Bake loaves for 45 minutes. Turn loaves out onto cooling rack. If you can refrain, let cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting.
I just turned 30. I was having a hard time with it until several of my friends and family members showered me with some fantastic gifts. Gosh, I sound so shallow, but take a look above and below. Are these not fantastic gifts?
Many of you have heard of Rancho Gordo. Several years ago at the SF Ferry building, I purchased a few bags of RG alubia criollos, a small white bean which turned out to be heavenly in this salad. I had all but forgotten about these buttery, creamy, heirloom beans until a dear friend’s father and I started exchanging emails about — wait for it — beans! The next thing I knew I was staring into a care package spilling with all things RG — beans, postcards, a cookbook, and a brown paper bag stamped with the RG logo… adorable. I’ve never been so excited to see so many bean-related goods. I’ll report back soon on the yumminess RG has brought to my life.
On to the chocolates. Have you all heard of Gilt Taste? If you haven’t, prepare to spend a considerable amount of time ooing and ahhing over their offerings. Seriously, like don’t visit the site if you have anything pressing on your schedule. I want one of everything. And I want to send everyone I know one of everything. This could be dangerous come December.
I had not heard of Gilt Taste until I received this 30-day supply of Tcho chocolates. Not only is the Tcho packaging beautifully designed and fun to inspect — it is adorned with entertaining phrases such as, “Take as needed for inspiration, happy heart, coping, focus, optimism and even euphoria,” — but the chocolates are some of the best I’ve ever tasted. What more would anyone want on their 30th birthday? Besides an RG care package?
Nothing at all. Thank you dear friends for my gifts! And one last thing: I have started pinning my favorite food-related gifts on Pinterest, also a new phenomenon for me and one that I am really enjoying. See that red “P” icon in the upper right-hand corner of my blog? That’s where you will always be able to find this food-gift pinboard. It’s obviously not very complete at the moment, but I’m hoping to have a nice collection of ideas before the holidays.