Monday, December 11, 2017

my best books of 2017.

The library is 3 blocks from our apartment and earlier this year it re-opened.  Outside of adopting Jackson and getting married, it was one of the best days of my life.   I love libraries (I even worked in one in college though I use the term "work" loosely) and I really love books.  Now that it's back, I've become a bit of a book worm and have spent most of my free time reading rather then watching TV.  It feels really good to read more and I have read A LOT this year.   

While not cooking or cookbook related, I figured I would put together a list of my top 5 books of 2017.  I have fairly electric reading tastes so I think this list includes something for everyone.  So if you are looking for something to hunker down with over the holidays, I hope you can find something on this list to try.   

Also!  Lest you think I wasn't going to be posting about holiday cookies, that is simply not the case.  I have a brownie recipe in my back pocket that will be coming in the next couple of days and I'm currently working on making the perfect ginger molasses cookie.  It is much harder then it looks.  Hopefully sometime next week I'll have that.   

Now without further ado, my best books of 2017 (not necessarily in order).   

1 -  Red Notice by Bill Browder - This reads like a Borne Identity movie (but is in fact a true story!) which would typically be the furthest thing from my wheelhouse but in this political climate, it just worked.   Bill Browder was one of the first foreign investors in Russia and through-out his career he found a lot of ways to make money and he also found that a lot of corruption exists in Russia.  I can't begin to tell you how fascinating this book is (I made Tyler read it when I finished).  

2 - Last Days of Night by Graham Moore - A fictional booked loosely based on the true story of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse battling among themselves to be the first company to bring electricity to the US.   This is not boring historical fiction, it's exciting and interesting and despite it's length goes quickly.  Another book I've recommended to pretty much everyone.   

3 - The Hearts Invisible Furies by John Boyne - At almost 600 pages, this is not a short novel, but it is so beautifully done it hurts.  Cyril Avery is born out of wedlock in Ireland in the 1930's (when things like that were frowned upon).   Each chapter takes your an additional 7 years into his life and within each chapter you as the reader find common threads that tie Cyril's past to his future.   This book is gorgeous and it touches upon so many issues (Catholicism in Ireland, AIDS, adoption, etc) and despite all of those heavy topics, it manages to remain somewhat light.   It's truly one of the best books I've ever read.   

4 - Sourdough by Robin Sloan - This book actually has a food related angle.  It's about Lois, a software engineer who moves to San Fran and spends her days coding and her nights unfulfilled.  That is until her favorite takeout place gives her their sourdough starter and she's left to take care of it.  This is a book about the intersection of food and technology.   It's a cute, easy read, and one that I really loved.   

5 - Amanda Wakes Up by Alisyn Camerota  - When I first finished this book I wasn't sure how I felt but the fact that I continue to think about it (a month after I finished it) means I really liked it.  This is chick-lit at it's best - smart, engaging, and fast paced.  It's the story of Amanda Gallo, a TV anchor who gets her big break on FAIR News, a new channel thats trying to be the unbiased news channel during the current presidential election.  While she's working, she realizes she is loosing herself in order to fit the mold of the company she works for.   This book has a LOT of similarities to the 2016 election cycle and now that we are a year out, I can finally read a book like this without feeling like I want to throw something.   

Honorable mentions go to Cork Dork (all about becoming a sommeillier) and Eleanor Ophiliant is Completely Fine (which I just finished!).   

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

all i want for christmas (isn't really much at all).

Image result for apartment therapy christmasHonestly, I have no idea where 2017 went and how it's Holiday time again.   My aversion towards things continues unless it's vintage or practical.   I can't believe how much Tyler has rubbed off on me.   

But, after a year that has been stressful and at moment downright scary, it's kind of nice to spend a little bit of time looking at completely beautiful things that deserve a place in our home.   So here is the list of things Caitlin would like to see under the tree.   Some are practical, some are silly, all of them make me happy.  And couldn't we all use a little happiness?    

Also - all of them support small companies doing new/cool different things which I always feel is important (minus AirBnb but AirBnb does support individuals turing their home into way to make money so I think that's OK).  

1 - A Wooden Matchbox - I've been on a bit of candle kick since moving into our new place.  I like how good they make our apartment smell and how they make everything feel cozy.  We have an ugly plastic lighter for lighting them and I can't stand seeing it on the mantle.  SO, as a replacement, I want this little wooden box for matches.  It's pretty, it's practical, and it works with our color scheme.   In zebrawood or maple please.   

2 - More Wool Socks - I love wearing thick wool socks around our apartment.  I've worn down several pairs that I currently own and am therefore always looking for new ones.  These are adorable.  I'll take any and all colors.    

3 - This Wine (or any of their Ancestral ones) - I had this wine at a tasting and couldn't get it out of my head.   I bought a bottle and then I couldn't find it again.   Tyler and I love it so much - it has a funky kombucha like taste to it.   

4 - Any of these Sculptural Earrings - It took 32 years and I finally got my style (kind of) down.  High-waisted pants, simple top, and sculptural earrings in gold.   I love the fluid earrings  and the cavernous studs that look like little pieces of crumpled paper.   

5 - Airbnb gift cards - Travel is pretty much all Tyler and I can agree to spend money on Airbnb gift cards are basically our favorite thing.   

6 - This Almond Butter - Yes, it is expensive for peanut butter/almond butter but it's the best of the best.  Especially when you eat it with homemade apple butter.   

7 - A lot of bags of Rancho Gordo Cranberry Beans - These are the best beans for soups and beans on toast.   I just finished my latest bag so more of them will make me very happy.   

8 - A Work Tote not in Black!  - My go-to work tote is by Cuyana.  It's big, its light-wight and it's good looking.  I've been wanting to get a second one in a camel color since mixing up my all-black look isn't a bad idea.   This one in camel with a navy lining (or blush lining) is EVERYTHING I want.   Someone please get this for me.  I could also use a new wallet (also in camel).   

9 - Mittens - Because I walk to work everyday and it is cold in the winter.  These are my ideal mittens.  Camel color and ribbed.   

And to end this list.  Charity donations.  I donate monthly to the ACLU.  We've been also donating to a lot of the groups involved in the Hurricane relief for Texas and Puerto Rico.   

Friday, November 17, 2017

caramel apple pie.

I've found my perfect apple pie recipe (just in time for Turkey Day).  

This is not an apple pie for the faint of heart (3 1/2 pounds of apples are involved!).  It's a multi-day (though fairly hands-off ) affair.  But my god is this good.  It is the everything you think of when you think of apple pie and more.  Layer after layer of thinly sliced apples are enveloped in a apple-y caramel sauce.   (I can't explain the magic that creates this caramel sauce but it is magic.)   The crust is crisp, the apples are fork tender, and the cranberries add a burst of tartness that works well with the sweet caramel sauce.   

If you make this for Thanksgiving you will be hailed a hero.   

Caramel Apple Pie 
Recipe from Tara O'Brady

I'm pasting the recipe here so you can see it as written but I make a couple of changes.  I added in about a cup of fresh cranberries since I had some on hand and thought the tartness would pair nicely with the caramel apples.  This was an excellent idea.  I decided to add a crumble topping to my pie rather then a traditional double layer.  This is personal preference!   

For the Pie 

Juice from ½ lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
3½ pounds (1.5 kg) apples
½ cup (90 g) packed light brown sugar
¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
60 gratings fresh nutmeg, or ¼ teaspoon ground
Flour, for dusting
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Coarse sugar, such as Demerara, coarse Turbinado, or sanding sugar, for sprinkling
Pie Doug (recipe below) 

Lightly butter a 9-inch (23 cm) pie pan and set aside. Squeeze the lemon juice into a large, nonreactive bowl. Peel, core, and cut the apples into ¼-inch (6 mm) slices, adding them to the bowl as soon as they are cut. Turn the apples in the lemon juice now and again while you work. Toss the apples with the sugars and salt. Cover and leave at room temperature for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours, or refrigerate overnight. Stir whenever you remember to do so. If you haven’t already, this is a good time to make the pastry. (Instructions below.)

Set a colander over a large heavy pot. Turn the apples into the colander and let them drain completely. Flip the apples back into their bowl and pour the juice into a liquid measuring cup, taking note of the amount. Melt the butter in the pot over medium heat. Let it brown, swirling occasionally. Add the drained apple liquid and bring to a boil without stirring. Reduce the liquid to ½ cup (120 ml).
Toss the apples with the cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg, until the cornstarch dissolves. Pour the reduced juices over the top and fold to combine. Set aside.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll half the dough out to a 12-inch (30.5 cm) round. Drape the dough over the prepared pan and gently ease into place, snug against the bottom and overhanging at the rim. Fill tightly with the apples and the juice, mounding the fruit toward the center. Place in the fridge. Roll out the remaining dough to a 12-inch (30.5 cm) round and either cut into strips for lattice or leave as is. Retrieve the pastry shell from the fridge. Brush the edge of the lower crust with beaten egg, reserving any remaining egg. Place the top crust over the filling, or weave the lattice directly on top of the filling. Press the top and bottom crusts together to seal, then crimp or decorate. Pop the whole pie in the freezer for 15 minutes.

While the pie chills, preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C) with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Brush the chilled pastry with the remaining egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar. For solid-top crusts, cut steam vents with either a knife or a small cookie cutter. Set the pie on the prepared baking sheet and bake until the juices are bubbling and the apples succumb to the tip of a knife, 50 minutes or so. If the crust browns too quickly, protect it with a layer of foil.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 1½ hours. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Pie Dough

Makes enough for 2 pie shells or 1 double-crust pie, each 9 inches (23 cm) in diameter

2¼ cups (320 g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar (for sweet crusts only)
1 teaspoon medium-grain kosher salt
1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into large cubes
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Ice water

In a large, wide bowl, whisk the flour with the sugar and salt. Scatter the butter over the flour. With the pads of your fingers, squish each cube of butter into thin cakes, in a motion similar to dealing cards off the top of a deck. Toss the butter into the dry ingredients as it is flattened, so that it is kept coated on all sides. Once all the butter has been squashed, chill the mixture for 30 minutes.

Stir the egg yolk with the vinegar in a 1-cup (240 ml) liquid measure, then add enough ice water to make ¼ cup (60 ml) total. Drizzle the liquids over the flour and butter mixture, then, with a butter knife, start stirring the wet into the dry. After a few stirs, abandon the knife and use your hands or a spatula to pick up stray flour and press it into the damp pockets of dough. Continue collecting the dough together in this way, pushing and smearing the mass against the bowl. This will not only incorporate the flour but also create long sheets of fat within the dough in a lazy-person’s version of fraisage, a classic pastry technique. If the dough seems dry, stingily drip in more ice water as needed. Once the lion’s share of the our is incorporated, fold the dough onto itself a few times, trapping any remaining our in the folds. Cautiously pat out the dough in between each fold, and shift the bowl a quarter turn so that the dough isn’t always folded the same way. The dough should be together, albeit raggedly, with visible pieces of butter.

Tip the dough onto a work surface and shape into a round. Wrap with plastic wrap. Once sealed, press firmly, so that the film is good and tight and the dough looks like it could burst from its wrapping. I feel this binding helps the dough in the end, encouraging the dry ingredients to fully absorb the wet. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Lightly flour a work surface, a rolling pin, and both sides of the unwrapped dough. Roll the dough into a long rectangle. Dust off the excess flour and fold into thirds, like a business letter. Turn the package 90 degrees and roll out again, flouring the board, rolling pin, and dough as needed. Brush away loose flour, then fold as before. If ever the dough gets too warm, cover and chill before proceeding. Turn the package a final time and roll the dough into a rectangle double the length of its width and cut in two. Shape the pieces into rounds, wrap snugly with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 1 hour, and up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month. For frozen dough, defrost in the fridge before using.

Whole Wheat Variation: Up to about ¾ cup (85 g) whole wheat flour can be swapped in for the same amount of white, though the crust will not be as flaky. Use whole wheat pastry flour if you can.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

turkey and ricotta meatballs.

I already have several meatball recipes in the archives of this blog but when you discover another one that feels somehow easier and less fussy then all the others, it makes sense to share it with the world.  

Now that we are firmly in fall (at least I think we are but by Friday we could be back to mid-70's), I've been craving a lot more stick-to-your ribs meals.   The kind of stuff that you eat with pasta or polenta and a glass of wine (as a side note, I’ve been super into natural wines since they have a fermented/sparking kombucha-esq taste that’s so addicting).  Things like braised meats, roasted squash, sautéed mushrooms, and of course meatballs which are the first thing I think of when I imagine stick to your ribs food.   

These meatballs are devoid of eggs and breadcrumbs which is unusual for a meatball.   Despite that, they are excellent - moist, flavorful and literally the easiest meatball that ever was.   Dump everything into a bowl, mix with your hands, and throw in the oven.  The recipe is capable of feeding a crowd and there wasn’t a person that didn’t want seconds which is the true test of a good recipe.   

Consider these my new go-to meatball recipe.   

Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs
Recipe tweaked slightly from Julia Turshen's Small Victories 

I served these a top spaghetti squash which is an UNBELEIVEABLE alternative for pasta in the fall.  I also find the slight sweetness of the squash works really well with meatballs.   But obviously lots of pasta works well too.   Also, if you are unfamiliar with Julia Turshen, she is an awesome cook who is helping to lead the resistance through cooking.   If you don't follow her on Instragram you should (she also posts a lot of adorable dog pictures in addition to food).   

Two 28-oz [794-g]  Cans whole peeled tomatoes
7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
7 garlic cloves 4 thinly sliced, 3 minced
1/4 -  1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 
Kosher salt
1 cup (40 g) fresh basil leaves finely chopped
1 cup (40 g)  fresh Italian parsley leaves finely chopped
1-1/2 cups (300 g) fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup (50 g)  finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 pounds (900 g) ground turkey (preferably dark meat) at room temperature

Pour the contents of the tomato cans into a large bowl (set the cans aside) and crush the tomatoes with your hands. Rinse one of the cans with about ¼ cup [60 ml] water, pour it into the second can and swish it around to get all the excess tomato out of the cans, and then pour the water into the tomato bowl.

In a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat, warm 3 Tbsp of the olive oil, add the sliced garlic, and cook, stirring, until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add the crushed red pepper flakes, the tomatoes, and a very large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it is slightly reduced and has lost any tin-can taste, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425°F [220°C]. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Drizzle 2 Tbsp olive oil on the baking sheet and use your hands to rub it over the entire surface of the sheet. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the minced garlic, basil, parsley, ricotta, Parmesan, turkey, and 1 Tbsp salt. Blend everything together gently but authoritatively with your hands (they’re the best tool for the job) until well mixed. Then, use your hands to form the mixture into golf ball–sized meatballs; the mixture will be sticky, so wet your hands with a bit of water to help prevent the meat from sticking to them. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared baking sheet as you form them (it’s okay if they are touching a little). Drizzle the meatballs with the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil and roast until they’re browned and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.

Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs to the simmering sauce (discard whatever juice and fat is left on the baking sheet). Cook the meatballs for 10 minutes in the sauce (they can be left in the gently simmering sauce for up to 1 hour) and serve.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

morrocan semolina and almond cookies.

It feels a bit awkward to be posting about cookies that don't utilize apples (which we currently own about 20 pounds of) or pumpkin/squash since it is the season but here I talking about non-seasonally appropriate (but utterly delicious) cookies.

A couple of weekends ago I hosted a dinner party at our place.  It was a full-blown Middle-Eastern inspired menu that included lamb and lots of tahini.   The desert involved maple poached pears with toasted hazelnuts and labneh whipped cream and these cookies.  The cookies weren't part of the original menu but I felt I needed something else and after doing a quick perusal of my cookbooks, stumbled across these which seemed like the perfect compliment to the dessert (and the larger dinner).   

Tyler tried them and declared them worthy of being included in the holiday cookie plate which is the highest level of accolades a cookie can receive.  These are deceptively simple but the flavor and texture are unparalleled.  Simple like a butter cookie but with a more crumbly and sandy texture.  The almond flour provides a little heft and a an extra layer of flavor.  These will be made again in December (if not before).   

Moroccan Semolina and Almond Cookies
Recipe from Dorie's Cookies

1 ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons/294 grams semolina flour
2 cups/200 grams almond flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
¾ cup/150 grams granulated sugar
1 lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup/60 milliliters flavorless oil, such as canola
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 teaspoon orange blossom water (optional)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dredging

Position racks to divide the oven into thirds, and heat it to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk together semolina, almond flour, baking powder and salt.

Put sugar in bowl of a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment, or in a large bowl in which you can use a hand mixer. Finely grate lemon zest over sugar, then rub them together with your fingertips until sugar is moist and fragrant. Add eggs and beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. With mixer running, pour oil down side of the bowl and beat for another 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla and orange blossom water, if using. Turn off mixer, add half the dry ingredients and mix them in on low speed, then add the rest, mixing only until dry ingredients disappear into the dough, which will be thick.

Sift some confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl. For each cookie, spoon out a level tablespoon of dough, roll it between your palms to form a ball and dredge in sugar. Place balls 2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets, then use your thumb to push down the center of each cookie, pressing firmly enough to make an indentation and to cause the edges to crack.

Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, rotating pans top to bottom and front to back after 8 minutes, or until cookies are ever so lightly colored: They will be golden on the bottom, puffed, dramatically cracked and just firm to the touch. Carefully lift the cookies off sheets and onto racks. Cookies will keep for about 4 days in a covered container at room temperature.

Monday, October 2, 2017

sweet potatoes with yogurt and cilantro-chile sauce.

I've been feeling as of late un-motivated to come to this place to talk about food.  It's not that I'm not cooking, I am cooking, almost every night, and most weekends, but I sometimes feel unsure about whether blogs are now being replaced by Instagram and Tweets and things that get you information quicker and with less words.   Does anyone care to read a couple of paragraphs about my life and what I'm cooking?  

I also think, that with the guy we have currently occupying the White House, I have to spend so much more time and energy reading about what he's done that day.  It's really exhausting and it makes me feel useless.  Spewing my thoughts to my husband and co-workers about all the injustice in the world, what does that accomplish?  I keep donating money to all of these causes because I feel like it's something to do but really is it doing something?    

But if I take a step back and try (really try) to look at this all glass-half full,  I feel like I'm learning so much.   Did you know we have stricter laws about importing cheeses from Europe then we do gun laws?  It's true.  We do and that's dumb.  Because I would much prefer people buy imported raw milk brie cheese then automatic rifles (raw milk brie de meaux is so good).   I hope I'm not the only one that feels this way.  We need gun laws.  What happened in Vegas today is just another very unfortunate reminder of why.      

I came back to this place today because I missed it, because I wanted to just throw a lot of random thoughts down so I can come back later and re-evaluate my sanity, but mostly so I could talk about these sweet potatoes which are honestly the most exciting thing I've made as of late.   Seriously, the most exciting thing.  It comes down to the green sauce which is kind of like a greem romesco but better.  SO MUCH BETTER.  Honestly, I could eat this for lunch every day for the next month and never get tired of it.  The contrast of sweet potatoes with herby, spicy green sauce and creamy yogurt is just so good.  It also tastes great at room temperature, doesn't get soggy, and pairs well with just about anything (Chicken!  Fish!  Lamb!).   There isn't much to be excited about right now, but this salad is one of those things.   

Sweet Potatoes with Yogurt and Cilantro-Chile Sauce
Recipe from the NYTimes 

¼ cup plus 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
½ tablespoon honey 
Juice of 2 limes
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
2 ¼ pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch wedges
½ bunch cilantro, leaves only (1/2 ounce)
2 green chiles (I used jalapenos), seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated on a Microplane or minced
2 tablespoons sliced blanched almonds
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 cup Greek yogurt

Pre-heat the over to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup oil, the honey, juice from 1 lime, a large pinch of salt and pepper to taste, and toss with potato wedges. Spread in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet, bake until tender and lightly browned in spots, 45 to 55 minutes. Sprinkle with additional salt to taste.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, pulse to combine 1/3 cup oil, the cilantro, chiles, garlic, almonds, juice from remaining lime, vinegar and a large pinch of salt, until it forms a chunky purée. Taste and add more salt if needed.

Spoon the sauce over the potatoes, dollop with some yogurt, drizzle with oil, and serve with any remaining yogurt on the side.