Are all sommeliers bros?

I don’t like Chardonnay. More specifically, I don’t like oaky, buttery Chardonnay. It’s the malolactic fermentation, the lingering buttery mouth-feel that gets me. It reminds me of a crappy gas station donut, the film that’s left on the roof of your mouth after you eat it. I can absolutely taste a Chardonnay that’s been oaked and tell you it’s Chardonnay. That’s not hard. But I swear I’m getting to the point where I can smell a wine and tell you it’s Chardonnay. Continue reading

In the kitchen with Julia

 

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Quote from the magnificent Julia Child; image from bookishfreaks.com

Tonight, I ruined a chocolate pavé. Sure, it tastes alright but esthetically? I wouldn’t serve it to anyone and am even embarrassed to take a picture of it for Instagram. But you know what happens when I ruin a dessert? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There are no ramifications. I just learn not to do that thing and try again tomorrow. And do you know who taught me to embrace that attitude in the kitchen? My friend, Julia. Continue reading

On Cherry Trees and Nostalgia

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This is what Italian cherry trees look like…

I ran out the back door and down the hill at full speed, jumping over the sandbox and straight for the cherry tree. Pulling ripe fruit off the lowest hanging branches before shoving them into my mouth and running toward the swings, I smiled. My sister and I played in our backyard for hours stopping only for snacks from the cherry tree. My mother, wide-mouthed basket in hand approached the cherry tree at a slower gait before selecting fruit for cherry crisp. The kitchen looked like a murder scene when she removed the pits, slicing each cherry in half before baking them with brown sugar, oatmeal and butter, so much butter. Continue reading

Lavender lemon scones

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Lavender lemon scones.


I can’t recall the first time I ever had a scone. It was probably the summer after high school in London. I was on a European choir tour and while friends were interested in buying clothes you couldn’t find at the mall in Iowa, I was fascinated by the food. My mom commented on how I didn’t bring home many souvenirs from that 3 week trip and except for the cartilage piercing I acquired, I spent most of my Euros on food.  Continue reading

My wine-induced quarter life crisis

I was halfway through a blog post about a recent wine tasting when I started to ponder how trivial a blog post about wine tasting is. I’ve wanted to be a writer for years and I’d like to think I have something to say worth listening to. But when writing about crowds of drunk people at a recent wine tasting and I how I had to carry a swag bag so I didn’t have a hand free to take any notes about the wine I was tasting, I was struck with the sudden realization that I’m a whiney white girl complaining about having to carry a bag of coupons.

This begs the question: can I write about wine and still be a writer of consequence? Can I write about the plight of not liking oaked chardonnay and not come off like a spoiled rich girl? Can I learn everything I can about wine and feel like I’m having a positive impact on the world?

I suppose the first step is to actually do the writing and worry about the aftermath later. You can’t be a writer of consequence if you aren’t writing anything.

Or I could just embrace the whiney white girl thing and write about how my biggest complaint at the wine tasting I went to last week was that my purse wasn’t big enough to hold my swag bag and it started to hurt my hand after several hours. What is that?

And does Robert Parker ever have doubts about his career choices? Does he stop to think about how in another life he could have been the U.S. Attorney General but instead he rates wine on a 100 point scale? Or does he fall asleep completely happy knowing he followed his bliss?

I grew up a part of the generation raised on the notion we could grow up to be whatever we wanted. We were told to dream big and follow our hearts. But as I get older, I watch my friends and former colleagues making an impact on the world. Becoming doctors, joining the Peace Corps, starting their own businesses and what am I doing? I drink wine and talk about the mouth feel and terroir. Is that important? Can that have an impact?

Can the impact simply be it makes my life better, happier, more worthwhile? If I value that, does that make this work valuable?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I do have a bottle of nonvintage Gruet Blanc de Noirs and I’m more than happy to sip on that while I figure this stuff out.

Wine: I’ve got some thoughts about it

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I drink (and take pictures of) a lot of wine…

I do yoga sometimes on Monday nights, with a group of girls and a couple of bottles of wine. I meet up with girlfriends at the wine bar for happy hour and regardless of what restaurant I’m at, I’m far more apt to be interested in the wine list than the 100 beers you have on tap. Conversely, Chef Boyfriend takes a six-pack over to his buddy’s for Friday night poker and would never think of grabbing a bottle from our cellar.

Continue reading

Risks and Change and the New Year

I don’t like change. Surprise, surprise.

I know not all change is bad. Change is necessary for growth and opportunity. I welcome the changing of the seasons, well all except that pesky winter, but when it comes to major life changes, my breath catches in my chest and I sit on the verge of tears.

This last year was full of change. I changed jobs; having grown out of the position, I was ready to tackle something different. But this change, however scary it was, was necessary.

Now, on the precipice of another big change, I’m trying to stay positive, acknowledging the adjustment period and focusing on the good things this change will bring.

Chef Boyfriend is leaving his job for something new. But in addition to saying goodbye to working the line, being available 24 hours a day, and managing the expectations of harried customers, he’s also saying goodbye to being home most weeknights. He needs this change. After working for the same family for 8 years, he’s ready for new challenges and I really am trying to focus on that. But instead, my mind wanders to thoughts of missing him and, worse yet, having to cook and eat dinner alone.

And it strikes me as odd, the fact that I don’t embrace change considering how important the process of change is to cooking.

Cooking is all about change. Relies on change. Amino acids and reducing sugars react to the heat of the stove to leave flank steak seared and when you taste that Maillard reaction, it’s pleasing. Color is flavor. That magic moment when sugar diluted in water changes so slightly and is no longer simple syrup, but is caramel. So why can I embrace those necessary chemical reactions in the kitchen, but am scared when it enters other realms of my life?

Honestly, it’s easy to take risks with food. Try new and unexpected things, because at the end of the day it’s just cake. And I’m lucky enough to be able to experiment with chocolate, eggs, flour. I see something on a menu, in a magazine, on the cover of a cookbook and I know I have the skills to figure it out. And if I don’t, it’s no big deal.

But there are other risks I long to take, risks that take me outside the safety of my kitchen.

Writing is a passion and when I get started, I lose time, getting lost in the flow of my own thoughts. But consistent writing has never been a strength of mine. And, considering my blog archive is maybe 6 entries deep, you can tell blogging isn’t my strong suit either. When I get an idea, I thought I wish to share with others it’s quickly followed by two thoughts: what if no one reads it? And even worse, what if somebody does?

There are smaller risks that scare me, too. I’d love to take a tap class but the unknowns of that simple action stop me cold. What do I wear? Where will I park? Who do I talk to when I get there? Will other people have friends in the class?

At the end of this string of thoughts is the knowledge that my generalized anxiety disorder is getting the better of me. In any new situation, I can ask questions because no one is expected to know everything the first time they try something. I know this.

So, though it’s a few days late, here’s a New Years mantra: embrace change. It’s going to be hard. I’m not expecting to smile in the face of every change I encounter this year. I’m not even going to try to take every risk or new opportunity that comes around. I know I won’t write daily right out of the gate. I know I won’t walk into a tap class and feel completely comfortable the first time. Or the third, or the tenth…if I can manage to go at all.

But I can try. And I can be open to failing. And I can be okay with failure.

Bacon Peach Steel Cut Oatmeal

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With the wind coming off the lake, it feels like fall around here. I spent the whole weekend in the kitchen, cooking up caramelized onion and tomato jam with farmer’s market heirloom tomatoes and some lemon lavender scones (stay tuned for those recipes later this week!).

And I’ve been in a breakfast funk lately. Waking up late and scrambling to eat something quickly before heading out the door to work. And unfortunately, for my body and my palate, I’ve been eating a lot of Cinnamon Life cereal and Chocolate Marshmallow Mateys. These aren’t typically things we keep in the house, but this summer has been stressful and it’s nice to have a sweet breakfast treat every now and again. But every now and again has somehow become every single day and when I eat a bowl of sugary cereal for breakfast, my stomach is growling again around 10:30.

Enter steel cut oats. A hearty, delicious breakfast perfect for leisurely weekend mornings. And now, weekday mornings too! It’s super easy to reheat steel cut oats in the same amount of time as those sad, instant oatmeal packets.

Steel cut oats are also incredibly versatile. Once you master the basics of cooking them up, you can customize the oats to match your mood or the season. Apples and cinnamon in the fall, fresh berries, and even bacon and caramelized peaches.

So cook up some bacon, then sauté your peaches in bacon grease and brown sugar and actually enjoy Monday morning.

I mean, check out this peachy goodness…

Caramelized Peaches

Caramelized Peaches

Bacon Peach Steel Cut Oatmeal

4 pieces of thick cut bacon

2 ripe peaches, diced

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 cup steel cut oats

2 cups water

2 cups milk (I used a combination of milk and heavy cream)

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon coconut oil (or butter)

Put water, milk, and salt into a pot and bring to a boil. While waiting to boil, cook bacon over medium heat. Reserve bacon grease and put diced peaches and brown sugar into the bacon pan. Cook until peaches are caramelized and the sugar and bacon fat create a syrupy caramel.

When milk/water is boiling, add steel cut oats and stir. Cover pot and reduce to simmer 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Oats are done when tender and creamy. Stir in coconut oil, caramelized peaches and bacon (broken into pieces). Pour into a storage container and cool before putting into the refrigerator.

In the morning, spoon a portion of oats into a microwave safe bowl, add a little water or milk and stir before reheating for 2 minutes. Grab a spoon and enjoy!

(Today’s photos taken on my iPhone 6. My DSLR is temporarily out of commission. I apologize for the picture quality…or lack thereof.)

Chocolate Chip Cookies…and then some

Cookies with coffee

Cookies with coffee…the breakfast of champions.

I love a good cookie. Any kind of cookie really. Chewy, soft, crisp. Filled with nuts, oats, or morsels of sweetness be they chocolate chips or M&Ms. Peanut butter cookies, ginger molasses, sugar cookies with colored frosting. I’m not choosy.

Despite my love of the cookie, I don’t make them very often. And it’s not because I don’t have a wealth of go-to recipes. I do. Ginger molasses are a Chef Boyfriend favorite and I’m a sucker for a simple chocolate chip cookie. But the time it takes to make cookies…I’m not a fan. There’s the dough making process, which I’m fine with but the bake time? Not so much. 8 minutes in the oven and then you have to spin the pan and bake for another 8 minutes. It’s a lot of stand up, sit down mumbo jumbo that I don’t have the patience for. Which I suppose makes me a terrible baker.

When I baked cookies professionally, I just threw those suckers on a speed rack and baked 12 dozen at a time and got on with my day. Sadly, I don’t have a speed rack at home or an oven large enough for one. So I putter around the kitchen checking the oven every 8 minutes, setting timers and half-ass cleaning the kitchen.

I think these cookies are worth it though. Filled with oats, chocolate chips, white chocolate, walnuts and a heavy hand of sea salt. Yes, these are totally worth it.

These cookies are not an original idea. I found the base recipe online somewhere at sometime and am a horrible person because I can’t find it now to link it appropriately. But you know; you know I’m not claiming it as my own. But at their core, these cookies are juiced-up chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate chip cookies, and then some.

We’ll get to the recipe but first, a few notes:

  • This recipe makes about 6 dozen…I don’t believe in making small batches of cookies. If you don’t have the freezer space for all these cookies, you may want to cut the recipe in half.
  • These cookies freeze exceptionally well! So that’s what you should do. Bake the full recipe and freeze some.
  • I use 1/2 unsalted butter, 1/2 salted but you could easily use all of one or the other. I like the salt throughout the cookie, not just on top but to each their own.
  • Sticking the batter back in the fridge between scooping batches will yield less spreading while baking.

Juiced-Up Chocolate Chip Cookies 

Ingredients:

2 cups butter (1 cup unsalted, 1 cup salted)

2 1/2 cups brown sugar (light or dark, it really doesn’t matter)

1 cup granulated white sugar

2 eggs (room temperature)

2 egg yolks (room temperature)

2 teaspoons vanilla (or a decent glug, because who really measures this?)

4 cups all purpose flour

2 cups uncooked old fashioned oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt (play with this, but certainly don’t leave it out. Yes, there is salt in the salted butter and you will top the cookies with sea salt, but never discount the importance of salt within the dough itself. You will notice it if you don’t include any.)

2 cups white chocolate chips

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 cups roughly chopped walnuts (you can toast these on the stovetop a little, but it’s not necessary)

Sea salt for garnishing (or any flaked salt. I think smoked sea salt would be phenomenal in these cookies!)

Instructions: 

Preheat oven to 325°F.

In a sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat. Remove from heat.

Pour melted butter into a mixing bowl, add brown sugar and granulated white sugar and mix until smooth. Put mixing bowl into the fridge for 10-15 minutes to chill.

Remove from the fridge and mix in egg, egg yolk, and vanilla.

Add flour, oats, baking soda, 1/2 tsp. salt and mix lightly.

Fold in white chocolate chips, chocolate chips, and walnuts.

Taste. Pat yourself on the back. You’re doing good things.

Put mixing bowl back in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Remove bowl from the refrigerator and using a portion scoop (or a spoon) place medium sized balls on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet, leaving space between each cookie. Press cookies down slightly (to create discs not balls) and top with a sprinkle of sea salt.

Bake cookies for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown, spinning the baking sheet halfway through. (In my oven, it takes 16 minutes, I spin the sheet at 8 for even cooking). Cool for 5 minutes on the sheet and then move to a cooling rack.

Warning: you may need to swat away curious “taste testers”. See below.

Chef Boyfriend likes to help but we have vastly different definitions of "helping".

Chef Boyfriend likes to help but we have vastly different definitions of “helping”.