Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day, Y'all!

I'm not the most environmentally conscious person, but I take small steps or measures to help where I can. I wanted to share two new things we've been doing to help out the earth and ourselves.

Reusable produce bags

We registered for these at Crate & Barrel, and we use them all the time! We have two sets, so as long as I remember to bring them with me to the store, I don't have to use plastic produce bags. I usually store the veggies in the bags in the fridge and toss them into the wash after a couple of uses.

The Buy Nothing Project is a friendly and feel-good form of reusing, and it builds community. I recently joined our neighborhood Buy Nothing Project Facebook page and have given away vases, shower curtain hooks, lamps, and even a giant bag of forgotten nail polish--all to my neighbors! I've also picked up summer hats for Baby K, a set of 19 Nancy Drew books, and a 1940s art deco compote dish. 

Their mission statement: "We offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors."

Find a project near you!

Cleaning products
I've been using lemon juice, baking soda, and vinegar to clean counters and shower doors--cheap, easy, and effective! Check out this handy chart for how to mix natural cleaning solutions.

I just ordered some essential oils and spray bottles to up my game a bit! Real Simple had a great article in their May 2015 issue with natural recipes to replace most of the cleaners we use in our house.

Reused/recycled materials
Ok, so I don't do a lot of creating (other than edible things), so I'm not very helpful there. But I do know people who do a great job of creating amazing things out of materials that have served their purpose in their first life. My friend David and his wife Lang live on a sailboat near us around Anacortes. Lang makes these gorgeous bags and totes out of old sail cloths and sells them on Etsy. Her work is absolutely beautiful, and I'm trying to justify my need for another tote. Look at this! 

How about you? What little steps have you started recently to take better care of our home?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Om nom nom COOKIES

I've been making these cookies for years, and I haven't told you about them. I'm terrible.

These cookies are just about everything I want in a chocolate chip cookie. They're a tiny bit crispy on the outside edge, with just the right balance of chewy/soft on the inside. There's plenty of chocolate distributed, and a good dose of salt really seals the deal.

I make these a lot. We eat them at home often, but they travel spectacularly well. I shove them in the backseat for road trips. I've packed the frozen dough in checked luggage. I bring them as my personal item on flights to see friends and family. I took them to Vegas, along with another batch of a different recipe--a browned butter chocolate chip cookie--for a scientific taste test with two of my best friends in the whole wide world. (These cookies won, but I'm secretly planning a fusion of the two cookies. Keep an eye out!)

I usually bake half the batch, then scoop the rest into balls, freeze them for an hour or two on a cookie sheet, then plop them into a bag and into the freezer. Being only 10 minutes away from freshly baked cookies is my I'm-sorry gift to you for keeping these from you.

This recipe is a tad fussy, calling for two types of flour and at least one DAY of rest in the fridge, but it's worth it. I'm not the kind of girl who lets cookies cool on a rack before I eat them, so please believe me when I tell you that, just like me, these cookies need a day of rest.

The Best Chocolate Chip far
Adapted from Jacques Torres

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 ⅔ cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
2 ½ sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 ¼ pounds bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli)
Sea salt for sprinkling

Cream the butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. (Really do a thorough job here. The mixture should actually change colors, from a golden brown to a very light beige.) If you're using a stand mixer, you can proceed while the mixer whirs away: Mix flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set it aside.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition, then stir in the vanilla.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop the chocolate chips in and incorporate them without breaking them. Once the dough is homogeneous (except for the chocolate chunks), stop mixing! Press plastic wrap against the dough, give it a little kiss, and refrigerate it for 24 to 36 hours. You can refrigerate the dough for up to 72 hours.

When you're ready to get down to business, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the baking sheet. (I portion the dough out with this scoop and freeze it after it rests. You can bake them straight from frozen--just add a couple of minutes to the cooking time.) Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, about 10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then carefully place the cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more before om NOM NOMMING.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Big game? Big nachos!

The Seahawks are the closest thing I've ever had to a hometown team, and I'm really excited for Sunday's game! Even if the Seahawks weren't playing, I'd still be excited because of the importance placed on snacking. In our house, sports snacking means fancy nachos, with emphasis on tasty toppings and plenty of cheese. You know what's sad? Naked tortilla chips and a pile of chipless toppings at the bottom of the pan.

Friends, I'm happy to introduce a game-changer: Tostada nachos. Using tostada shells is faster, easier, and more efficient than using tortilla chips. No more Tetrising of the chips to fully line a pan. No more losing valuable toppings through the cracks of tortilla chips. No more wrangling 18 chips in order to get enough toppings!
Action shot!
Here's how the magic happens:
1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Lay out six or seven tostada shells.
3. Go crazy with toppings! (For Josh's birthday here, I used black beans, pickled jalepenos, red onions, frozen roasted corn from Trader Joe's, banana peppers, green onions, and cheddar and pepperjack cheeses. Some of those toppings came straight off of the Whole Food's salad bar. Look at that belly--this pregnant lady limited her time standing and chopping.)
4. Do another layer of chips & toppings.
5. Bake at 350 until the cheese is melty--usually about 15 minutes.
6. Serve with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, radishes, cilantro...

Don't worry--this is before the second cheese layer. I'm not that cruel.

Now tell me: What's your favorite nacho topping or nacho hack?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

My Current Favorite Things - January 2015

I've been away from here for a while. I've been spending most of my days in a baby-bliss-filled haze, and it has been lovely. I start work Monday, and am hoping to get into a better routine of work, cooking, and snuggling. My hope for my writing is that I publish more often, but perhaps shorter posts. It can get daunting to have a big, involved idea or recipe floating around in my head, and then I try to say something interesting about pizza dough. Sometimes I just want to tell you that it's great dough and you should try it if you're looking to make a pizza.
One of my favorite things: Huge cedar trees in our backyard. This is the morning view from our guest bedroom.

So I've been thinking about a few things that I've been appreciating and loving lately, and I want to tell you about them.

In the Kitchen
  • Frozen chopped onions. Bags of these are about a dollar each, and are so convenient for quick dishes--scrambles, guacamole, veggies & rice, etc. I usually only use a quarter of a cup at time, and I'm already stockpiling bags in our deep freezer.
  • Taylor Farms Kale Chopped Salad. You all probably know that I'm a huge kale trash-talker. It's always too bitter and too tough, and I always regret trying to eat it. Well, trash-talker no more! I picked up a bag of this on sale last week to serve with butternut squash risotto, and I went back the next day to get more. It's the best kale I've ever had. I think the real secret is to dress it and let it stand for 20 minutes, which seems to tenderize the kale. (The salad also has Brussels sprouts, but even if you normally hate raw sprouts AND kale [like former me], you should give this salad a try. Really.)
  • The simple salad: spring greens, tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, avocado, Parmesan, and balsamic vinaigrette. Our neighbor Jackie brought this salad to our house a few weeks ago, along with her adorable baby who's eight days older than Baby KJ! We loved the salad so much that night that we just keep making it. Thank you, Jackie!
On Your TV & Computer
  • The Great British Bake-Off (PBS) is my favorite reality show of all time. I love the transparency of the show; it's clear that the bakers have been preparing for each episode and practicing specific recipes just for the competition. There aren't any villains, and no one's "not here to make friends." It's just people who love to bake doing their thing. Bonus points: I've finally learned how to pronounce things like "marscarspone", "tuilles", and "compote". 
  • PicMonkey is my favorite site for editing photos. It's free, although the $30/year upgrade to unlock all the features is definitely worth it. It's easy, intuitive, and the tutorials are wonderful. The site's tone is also pretty cheeky, which I love. I fancied up a picture for our Christmas card and edited our wedding photos for a collage with PicMonkey. I'd love to try their recipe card tutorial next.
  • I met Tricia of A Couple of Dashes on a food tour (more about that in my next post). Tricia blogs frequently about all things fitness--motivation, food, gear, humor, nutrition--she does it all, and with a great upbeat attitude. If you are always signed up for a race or have a separate dresser for your workout clothes, her blog is for you.
  • My partner in crime who also did the food tour with me is my friend Tania of HashtagEat. Tania is a spectacular cook, amazing photographer, and the sweetest friend. Her food styling is also getting really good, so check out her blog for tasty dinner ideas or local Seattle dining hot spots.
I hope I'll find you back again here soon. I'm going to try harder! 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nectarine Crisp with Streusel Topping

I'm barely sneaking this one in before the last days of this summer's nectarines, but I couldn't let this year go by without sharing this with you. Lately, chocolate hasn't been as alluring to me as usual, so when nectarines called to me from the grocery bin, I hopped on board. It was the perfect end to our new patio set's maiden voyage that night; two weeks later, I made it again. I'll probably make it again next weekend, too.

This recipe follows my ideal equation--easy preparation = big payoff. It's everything that I think a crisp should be. The fruit filling is simple and plain, and the streusel topping really makes it--it forms a crust kind of like an oatmeal nut cookie. I hope the idea of that kind of cookie, together with summer fruit and a dollop of vanilla ice cream, is enough to make you rush toward the nearest nectarine bin. Let me know how it turns out.

Nectarine Crisp with Streusel Topping
Adapted from "How To Cook Everything"

Fruit filling
6 cups of sliced nectarines (about two pounds)
Juice of half a lemon (about 1.5 tbsp)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp brown sugar

Streusel Topping
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans (or your favorite nut)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c. rolled oats (not instant oats)
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss the fruit filling ingredients together and spread in a well-buttered 1.5-quart baking dish. (An 8-inch square or 9-inch round works. I used an oval Corning Ware dish,)

Cream the butter and sugar using an electric mixer, food processor, or fork. Stir or pulse in the remaining ingredients until combined and crumbly; it won't hold together like a dough. (You can refrigerate or freeze until about 30 minutes before you're ready to use it. Defrost if necessary, then use.)

Crumble the mixture over the crisp. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the topping is browned and the fruit is tender and bubbling. Let stand for a few minutes, then serve with ice cream!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Giant Chocolate Toffee Cookies

Before Pinterest, I was forced to clip recipes from magazines, newspapers, or to print them off from the internet like some sort of barbarian. I have an envelope of "to make" recipes stashed away for rainy days or a culinary staycation. I so rarely get to them nowadays--our current favorites are on standard rotation, and now that it's summer, I most often turn to easy salads and sandwiches.

The recipe is vintage Epicurious, published in 2000. The ratings are very high, and the recipe is full of wonderful things, so I'm not sure why it took me nearly fifteen years to move this to my "Tried & True" file. I suppose things like "Heath bar pieces" and "one pound of chocolate" always seemed too fussy (I know, I'm cringing even now at my foolishness), so I'd turn to my easy yogurt cocoa cookies. I am ashamed. I missed out on years of these cookies. Learn from my mistakes, friends! For extra good karma, share your batch with your favorite pregnant lady. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Giant Chocolate Toffee Cookies
Adapted from Epicurious
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups (packed) brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 1.4-ounce chocolate-covered English toffee bars (such as Heath), coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (optional)

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl; whisk to blend. Stir the chocolate and butter in a double boiler (or a glass or metal bowl set on a saucepan) set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and cool the mixture to lukewarm.

Using your trusty electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5 minutes, then beat in the chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients mixture, then the toffee and nuts. Chill the batter until firm, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Drop batter by mounds of two tablespoons onto sheets, spacing them 2.5 inches apart. (I used a cookie dough scoop, with excellent results.) Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, about 15 minutes. Cool sheets on wire racks.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Pan-Seared Scallops with Fancy Sauce

I thought this looked too highfalutin for a post, but I put this on Facebook and immediately had two requests for the recipe, so here we are!

This dish does look fancy, but the work-to-payoff ratio is just the way I like it: Simple and easy preparation = a stunning meal. I threw two sweet potatoes in the oven, started the sauce, threw broccoli in the oven, then cooked the scallops. I knocked my own socks off with only about 30 minutes of actual work for all four things--scallops, sauce, and two veggies. Easy! (But still fancy!)

Pan-Seared Scallops with Champagne Butter Sauce (Beurre Blanc)
Serves 2

For the scallops
1 pound sea scallops
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

For the beurre blanc

7 tablespoons (nearly one stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
1 large shallot, minced
1 cup champagne or other dry sparkling wine (go cheap here)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and season lightly with salt and pepper; stir and cook until translucent, about 1 minute. Add champagne and vinegar and bring to a boil. Boil for 15-20 minutes, or until it reduces to about 1/4 cup. Over very low heat, whisk in the remaining butter one piece at a time, fully incorporating each piece before adding next. (Don't let it boil--the sauce will separate!) When all of the butter is incorporated, stir in the chives and season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat, and cook the scallops.

Place scallops on a large plate lined with a couple of paper towels. Blot the tops gently with another paper towels. Let them sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet (I used a stainless steel fry pan) over high heat until just smoking. Add scallops in single layer, flat-side down, and cook, without moving, until well browned, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add butter to skillet. Gently flip scallops; continue to cook until sides of scallops are firm and centers are opaque, 30 to 90 seconds longer.

Spoon sauce over scallops to warm very briefly, about 15 seconds, then serve, adjusting seasoning to taste. Bask in your dinner guests' adoration.