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.

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”.

Summertime, Sticky Fingers, and Ice Cream

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I spend a great deal of time thinking about food and memory. I sit and think about past meals, cocktails, glasses of wine. I think about where I was when I last had a lobster roll and who I was with and what the weather was like. I think about the first meal I ever ate with Chef Boyfriend and what music was playing and how he stood over that stupid glass stovetop sprinkling the ravioli with fresh sage.

Continue reading

Saturday at Revival

Drinks at Revival

Drinks at Revival

Saturday was the first day Chef Boyfriend didn’t work in weeks. And it was glorious.

We slept in, drank coffee, had drinks with lunch and took an afternoon nap. It may not sound like much, but for two people who’s schedules rarely align, a whole Saturday together is amazing and just being together is better than anything.

Though the whole day was nice, far and away the best part was lunch at Revival. If you’re in the Twin Cities and haven’t checked out Revival yet, get off the internet right now and jump in the car or on your bike and get there. Seriously.

Revival opened earlier this year and is the quirky little sister of Corner Table and Chef Thomas Boemer gets it right. It’s hoity-toity Southern cuisine and it hits the spot. Fried chicken, a solid selection of sauces, grits, beans and biscuits…I loved everything we ordered.

And the wine list? Fantastic. Created by people who get that nothing pairs better with fried food than sparkling wine. Five by the glass and 11 by the bottle; this girl couldn’t have been happier (though I’m curious as to who is ordering the $210 a bottle Pierre Gimmonet “Special Club” Chardonnay from Champagne, France with their fried chicken).

We started with fried chicken livers and the pigs ear salad.

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As I pierced the delicate coating on the fried chicken livers with my fork, I thought about how lucky I am to have found someone who enjoys food as much as I do. Someone willing to order the weird stuff on the menu: pigs ears, chicken liver, sea urchin, headcheese, offals. Someone who isn’t afraid of any animal, any cut, any part. We are exploratory eaters and we’re on a journey together.

We have our favorites, sure. And sometimes they’re safe. But if there’s an unusual charcuterie option on the menu, we’re ordering it. If sweetbreads are in something, we’re ordering it. And I will eat absolutely any animal’s liver. Which made the fried chicken livers my favorite menu time at Revival. The batter is delicious, the livers, tender and they’re served with sweet potato barbecue sauce. Go ahead and use extra sweet potato barbecue sauce.

The fried chicken itself is tender and juicy and wonderful. The white cheddar grits are unctuous. The banana cream pie, perfection. All served with three glasses of Spanish Muscat with the slightest effervescence.

It was a wonderful lunch and we will absolutely be returning. And if you’re planning a trip, invite us along.