Friday, July 31, 2009


About a year ago, we fell in love with the Big Sur Breakfast Pizza. It has since become a brunch staple (whenever I remember to make the pizza dough in advance) and has rocketed The Big Sur Bakery high on my "must-one-day-visit" list.

In my effort to eat a bit healthier this summer—eliminating big portions of meat, trying to eat whatever I bring home from the farmers market, and adding more grains to my diet—I’ve been reading the wonderful vegetarian recipe blog 101 Cookbooks. The other week, I stumbled upon a recipe I simply had to make from none other than The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook.

The book is on its way from Amazon, but in the mean time, I simply had to try their recipe for hide bread, dense grainy rolls filled with oat bran, flax seeds, and a kiss of beer. Now, I’ve had my share of bad luck when it comes to bread, but I must say—these are absolutely perfect!

(yield: 15 4-inch rounds)
Note: Many of the comments on 101 Cookbooks suggested the rolls baked up hard and brittle, but I didn’t have a problem. I cut down on the flour by a whole cup, make sure your baking soda is fresh, and I suggest using whole milk or buttermilk to give just a little fat to the bread. They’ve also kept great for a few days now—just pop them in the toaster for a few minutes.

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 cups oat bran
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup amaranth, quinoa, millet, or poppy seeds (or a combination—I used poppy seeds and quinoa since I had them on hand)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons beer (I used the always drool-worthy Allagash White Ale)
2 1/2 cups buttermilk or whole milk

Adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat it to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or use a silicon mat.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a very large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the beer and milk. Mix together with the handle of a wooden spoon until you have a thick, wet batter (definitely more of a batter than a dough). Sprinkle some flower on top and turn over onto a lightly floured countertop. With your hands, roll into a log shape (sprinkling more flour on top if needed) until it is quite long and about 2 inches in diameter. Cut into 1 1/2 inch think slices and then roll them into patties with your (floured) hands. Place patties on the baking sheet (I needed two) and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool.

To serve, slice the round in half, toast, and add a nice pat of butter and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


There are lots of things I love about Iceland—the hidden people, the volcanic rock, and the knitwear, to name just a few—but it has its flaws, especially when it comes to the cuisine. There are the stellar lamb hot dogs (topped with raw onion, fried onions, ketchup, mustard, and remoulade) and the local yogurt (called skyr, slightly thicker than even the thickest Greek yogurt you’ve had). But once you even get past the fact that fruits and vegetables don’t grow on the island, there are things like hákarl (putrified shark meat), puffin, and whale that are downright gross.

It’s safe to say that I don’t bring home much putrified shark meat, but there is one thing that I can never bring home enough of: brennivín, the legendary Icelandic spirit also known as “black death.” Technically, brennivín is a caraway-based schnapps almost entirely synonymous with aquavit, a more familiar Scandinavian spirit. But hey, no aquavit has such snazzy packaging.

Both brennivín and aquavit are delicious straight (even Alinea serves Linie aquavit as an apertif), but there are a few cocktails that really make that caraway-scented spirit stand out. While I was in New York last weekend, we stopped by the speakeasy stalwart Death + Company to get out of the heat and soothe my woes of a hellish MTA journey into Brooklyn. I started with a delicious chamomile-infused Old Overhold Rye mixed with Campari and St. Germain, but nothing could compare to a drink I didn’t even notice until the second round: the Midnight Sun. Using the Portland-based Krogstad aquavit made by House Distillery, they added fresh lime juice, St. Germain, a mysterious ingredient called “Donn’s Mix #2,” and muddled it all together with cardamom pods. The result? A spicy but fresh and summery drink that is sure to become one of my household staples.

RECIPE (makes 1 drink):
2.5 oz aquavit (or brennivín if you are as lucky as I am)
1 oz St. Germain elderflower liqueur
.75 oz Donn’s Mix #2 (see below)
Juice of half a lime
8 cardamom pods
1 slice lime (for garnish)

Pour the aquavit, St. Germain, Donn’s Mix, and lime juice over the cardamom pods in a pint mixing glass. Muddle the ingredients together for a couple of minutes, really working to break down the cardamom pods. Add ice and shake for a few seconds. Strain into an old fashioned glass over ice and garnish with a slice of lime.

RECIPE (makes about 1.5 cups):
5 cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces
1 cup grapefruit juice
3/4 cup sugar

In a small pot, mix the sugar and 1/2 cup water and add the cinnamon. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, ensuring all of the sugar dissolves. Let simmer for 30 minutes and take off heat. Let the syrup cool and then mix it together with the grapefruit juice. It makes a great addition to cocktails, especially rum-based drinks!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


When I go to the market to prepare for dinner, I frequently have nothing particular in mind—this is more a symptom of my chronic indecision than it is part of some romantic ideal of fresh food. But sometimes, that just happens to be an excellent benefit to my tactics.

I’ve been finding some really beautiful morels at my favorite local produce store, but as I was about to pick some up the other day, I noticed some mushrooms we don’t see here very frequently—chanterelles. With their bright orange hue and fresh, earthy aroma, it was hard to pass them up.

Doing some preliminary searching for recipe ideas, I only found ones that were muddled and over-wrought, not something you’re looking for when the product you’re using is almost $30 per pound. Luckily, I was able to ask Neal for advice with his trusty Flavor Bible in hand, and chose to play off one of the classic chanterelle flavor affinities: butter, cream, garlic, and parsley.

Rich, creamy, but still fresh tasting, this dish was perfect for the chilly summer night here. It was also a perfect display of such delicious mushrooms.

RECIPE (serves 2):
1/2 lb dried pappardelle (but use fresh if you can!)
1/4 lb fresh chanterelles, washed carefully and dried, and cut in half
2 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced
zest of half a lemon
3 tbsp cream
2 tbsp dry vermouth
1 strip thick-cut bacon, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
large handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup parmesan, grated

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Start by heating the butter in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, add garlic and lemon zest, stir around, and heat until it becomes fragrant, about 1 minute. Now add the chanterelles and stir them around to coat in butter, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until they begin to lose shape and soften.

Meanwhile, fry your bacon pieces and pop the pappardelle in the boiling water and cook according to the instructions on the package, usually around 10 minutes.

After the chanterelles are soft, add a splash of vermouth and turn the heat up to medium until the alcohol has burned off. Now add your cream and half the parsley, stir around until it simmers, and take off heat, adding the rest of the parsley and the bacon. Drain the pasta, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking water to throw into the pasta. Add the parmesan, a few cracks of black pepper, and enjoy!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I’ve never been a big eater of jams or jellies—they were always taboo in my house because of their high sugar content. We did, however, have a family friend who always delivered fresh berry preserves in the summertime when all the fruit was coming in season in Michigan, and they were always so wonderful.

A few times, I’ve gotten the inspiration to make preserves myself when I notice some fruit in the fridge looking a bit sad, but then I forget and by the time I come back, the fruit is moldy and worthy only for the trashcan. On our recent trip to New York, however, the complimentary hotel breakfast included the most wonderful preserves every morning—lemon with ginger, apricot with lavender—and to make matters worse, I sat through a beautiful episode of Barefoot Contessa on the way home in which she makes a delicious-looking (and easy) orange marmalade. I could resist no longer.

I adapted the Contessa’s recipe a bit to add some excitement, using Meyer lemons for their soft, herbal flesh and adding some lavender buds. I was also in need of some easy end-of-year gifts to give to some of my professors who have helped me through my difficult BA-writing, so the four-pint yield of this comes in handy for gift-giving!

Recipe (yield: 4 pints)
4 seedless oranges
2 (Meyer) lemons
4 cups sugar
8 cups water
1/2 tbsp dried lavender buds

Cut the lemons and oranges in half length-wise and begin making thin slices like half-moons. Throw them into a large stainless steel pot (I used my absolute largest soup pot), and cover with 8 cups of water. Add the lavender and bring to a boil. When it starts to boil, remove the pot from heat, add sugar, stir to dissolve, and allow the pot to sit covered overnight at room temperature.

After the flavors have been allowed to meld, return the pot to heat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and let simmer uncovered for two hours, stirring every so often, breaking apart the rinds a little bit as you go. When the mixture seems to have thickened, turn the heat up to medium to a gentle boil, stirring frequently for about 30–40 minutes until you have a thick, golden mixture and a candy thermometer reads 220º F. To test if your marmalade is done, put a small amount on a plate and stick it in the freezer for a few minutes until it is cool. If it seems to hold together without being runny, you’re in business. Otherwise, keep stirring. If it’s too hard, you may want to add just a little more water.

When it’s done, take the pot off of the heat, pour the marmalade into sterilized pint jars, and seal.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Trying to live up the remaining days when my weekends still begin on Thursday, I stopped into my favorite troll cave, Binny’s, to pick up some beer with which to begin my celebration of a long weekend.

Passing by the gin section, I noticed a slightly oddly colored Old Tom Gin made by Ransom Spirits. Thinking it was a little steeply priced at $34.99, I thought to myself, “Well, I can do my research on it and decide if I still want it tomorrow.” And then, a few seconds later, I thought, “Who am I kidding? I know I’ll want it. I should just get it now.”

Lightly straw colored and deeply floral, this gin was much more complex than any other I have tried. I have just a tiny bit of experience with genevers, the old-fashioned type of gin popular in Holland before it made its fame in England, but apparently old toms are the missing link between the two, a little less potent than the old Dutch style, but not as bland as London dry gins.

The Portland-based distillery usually works with wine and other grape-based spirits, but this gin is their first batch ever. But doing my research, I’ve discovered a ton of Portland-based distilleries! How intriguing. Maybe this warrants a visit!

So, I have to ask: any suggestions on how to use this new gin? I tried it in a simple Tom Collins with pretty wonderful results, but what next?

Monday, May 25, 2009

brooklyn flea

A few months ago, I became a little enchanted with the New York Times’ reporting of the emerging Brooklyn culinary scene. As an aspiring home cook with DIY tendencies, I began to fantasize about what I could do with just a little capital and a lot of time.

So on our recent trip to New York, I knew I wanted to check out some of these places, but it seemed nearly impossible when they were scattered all over Brooklyn. How could I sample Salvatore’s Ricotta and Mast Brothers Chocolate?

And then I remembered about something else I had read about: Brooklyn Flea, a wonderful market of food vendors, antiques, and crafts set in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. We got out of bed and rushed over as fast as we could, finding ourselves on a school’s track field, over our heads in culinary delights. (Even foodie favorite Ted Allen was there to indulge!)

We sampled McClure’s spicy and dill pickles (the former were amazing, the latter also pretty delicious), some of Rick’s Picks’ pickled beets and green beans, and even some chocolate from Fine & Raw (sadly Mast Brothers Chocolate does not seem to participate in this culinary extravaganza).

The real treats, however, were vendors whipping up lunch on the spot. I couldn’t resist the pieces of baguette covered in a thick layer of Salvatore’s whole-milk ricotta, sprinkled with sea salt, topped with arugula and cured ham and then drizzled with olive oil—easily one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.

We got a pretty wonderful grilled cheese from Saxelby Cheesemongers, topped with thin slices of spicy McClure’s pickles (although it could have used a few extra minutes on the griddle, but they were pretty backed-up).

Asia Dog served hot dogs in a similar way to Chicago’s own Hot Doug’s but succeeded where Doug does not, creating interesting combinations without the standard sauce + cheese method Doug is so fond of. We got a Vietnamese style banh mi dog topped with herbs and vegetables like the traditional sub, and the real winner, a Chinese BBQ-style dog topped with a tangy sauce and pork belly.

And for desert? Well, the logical choice would have been a cannoli from Salvatore’s, but when those little sandwiches were so good, why not return for seconds?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

FROM THE PANTRY: smoky tomato soup

It was a chilly May evening here in Chicago and my dinner options were slim: I had a paper to write, a flight to New York to catch in the morning (more about that to follow in future entries), and not much to work with in my fridge. Luckily, I stumbled across a recipe for tomato soup in Deborah Madison’s fantastic Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Using her soup as a template, I created my own version for lack of celery, milk, basil, or a few other key ingredients in less than 30 minutes.

Even with my major modifications, I totally lucked out! This soup was so delicious and took hardly any time at all. I had some Carr Valley applewood-smoked paprika-rubbed cheddar I was dying to use (a delicious cheese I found at Whole Foods here in Chicago), so I grated a little on top. I also used fire-roasted tomatoes, which added to the smokiness, but feel free to use something different if you have others on hand. Since I had just finished my paper, I enjoyed it with a Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale. Whatever I didn’t eat, I froze for my lunches after I got back from my vacation.

Smoky Tomato Soup (serves 3–4)
28 oz. tin diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
2 cups chicken stock (or water)
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
2 tsp hot paprika
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cream
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking soda
salt and pepper to taste
grated paprika smoked cheddar (for garnish)

Heat the butter in a medium pot over medium-low heat and throw in the carrot, onion, thyme, paprika, and bay leaves. Cook until the veg is starting to soften, about 10 minutes.

Now add the flour, baking soda, tomatoes, stock (or water), and bring to a boil and then turn to low and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring every once in a while.

Once you have a nice thick soup, let it cool for a few minutes and blend it together. An immersion blender is GREAT for this, but if you are using a regular blender or food processor, just make sure you are EXTRA careful since no matter what, I always end up burning myself or covering my shirt in soup. You want it smooth, but I don’t think it needs to be TOO smooth.

Finally, stir in the cream, taste to correct seasoning (adding black pepper really helps this soup, and I added a little extra salt, too), and serve. You can also grate over some of the cheese if you want to use it (I found myself adding more and more, so I definitely recommend it), or even better, serve with a grilled cheese sandwich!