Buttermilk Biscuits


You know that I always try to have a little backstory to go along with a recipe, because I think that it’s much more fun to find out why someone cooks or bakes something than just read a recipe, which you can do on any cooking site. A lot of times, though, I have no good tale after I try a recipe, but I really want to share it and so I wander around trying to fit the recipe into a story, any story, so I can write about it. I mean, I’m not crazy (or committed) enough to go do something just so I can post about it and give you a recipe, but I do have a backlog of tasty treats that are hanging out just waiting for the right moment.

This is not one of those moments. The true story is that I bought a quart of buttermilk (seriously, who needs a quart of buttermilk?) in order to make sweet potato muffins for a brunch. Since the recipe only calls for 1/3 cup of buttermilk I had a full container when I was done.  I was thrilled when the lemon poppyseed cake called for a cup; I thought I could at least put a dent in the quart. But it’s obvious that buttermilk regenerates, because I swear that the carton was as full as when I started (and I made three of those cakes).  So as the expiration date approached, I started thinking about what else I could do.  Biscuits were the first thing that popped into my mind, but I dismissed them because I’m not a fan.  The ones I’ve had have always been heavy and chewy and too buttermilky–the tang of buttermilk is overpowering to me.  But I couldn’t find any recipes other than cakes and pancakes, so biscuits won by default.

Having never eaten a biscuit that I actually liked, I had every intention of just making them, taking a few pictures and pawning them off on my coworkers.  What really ended up happening is that I was late for work, because I was standing in my kitchen eating biscuits dripping with butter and honey like it was my job.  I moved from the “I’ll pass” camp to the “you’ll pass over all the biscuits now if you know what’s good for you” camp in less time than it took for them to cool.  They were light and layered and had a bit of sweetness (even without the honey) that balanced out the tartness of the buttermilk.  Even the next day they were soft and had none of that chewiness that I think plagues other biscuits.  Of course, I wouldn’t really know how they hold up for too many days, because there weren’t any left after day two.  But, you know what was still hanging around? 1/2 a quart of buttermilk. I kid you not.

Buttermilk Biscuits, courtesy of The Homesick Texan (I think I originally found the recipe on epicurious, but think it’s better to link to her actual site)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading (9 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, plus more to taste (I used just 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold (1 stick)
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half or buttermilk (I added a bit more to the dough, because it was a little dry as I was mixing)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a baking sheet or cast-iron skillet.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Cut the stick of butter into pieces and work it into the flour mixture with your hands or pastry blender until it resembles pea-size crumbs. Add the half-and-half or buttermilk, mixing until the dough is a bit loose and sticky.

Pour the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute. Dough should be smooth and no longer wet. You can sprinkle more flour on the surface if you find it’s sticking. Make the dough into a ball and hit it with a rolling pin, turning it and folding it in half every few whacks. Do this for a couple of minutes (I actually just picked up the dough and threw it down over and over (fold over before throwing it down again).  Good tension release and upper arm workout).

Roll out the dough until it’s 1/4 of an inch thick, then fold it in half. Using a round biscuit cutter (you can use a glass or a cup if you don’t have a biscuit cutter–I used a measuring cup), cut out the biscuits from the folded dough. Place on a greased baking sheet or in a cast-iron skillet close together, about 1/8 of an inch apart (so they rise up not out), and bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

NOTE: If you don’t want to roll and cut them out, after kneading and beating the dough you can drop the dough onto the baking sheet with a spoon. They’re not as symmetrical (dropped biscuits are also known as cat-head biscuits), but they’re no less delicious.

Sweet Potato Muffins


 

I am, generally, an organized person.  It may not seem like it if you were to look at my desk, but I always know exactly where things are (likely because I’m an only child and there was no one around to move something once I put it somewhere), I rarely lose things and I can pretty much remember details of where I need to be without writing them down. I say all of this to tell you that I rarely do more than glance at information, because I rely (overly so) on my ability to absorb it quickly and remember it.  Fortunately for me, I show up where I’m supposed to be 9 times out of 10, so I’ve had little need to reconsider my methods.  But that 10th time? That 10th time will always be when it truly truly counts.  The biggest “slip up” I’ve made was when I was supposed to get sworn in to the Illinois bar.  Weeks prior to the swearing in, the bar people sent a letter listing where you needed to go based on where in Illinois you lived.  For Chicago, it was McCormick Place on XYZ day at 2:30pm. Done.  I alerted relatives and friends and threw the paper into a pile.  

The appointed day arrived and I put on my new lawyer suit and went into work.  I told the partners that I’d have to leave around 2pm and wouldn’t be coming back for the day since a celebration at a Cuban restaurant was to follow.  I vaguely wondered why none of my classmates were around that morning, but I realized that they were probably smart and took the whole day off for this big event.  2pm rolls around and I pull out the letter so I could get the name of the room where the swearing in was supposed to be held. And what do I see?  The Chicago ceremony had started at 11:30.  My heart skipped a beat as I realized that I had just missed getting sworn in and I had no idea what that meant (these bar people are no joke.  To even take the exam you have to jump through so many hoops that I figured that they’d punish me in some way for missing it).  Tears, frantic phone calls and a speeding taxi ride followed.  I arrived at McCormick Place to see the janitors sweeping up left over flower petals and locking the doors to the auditorium.  My well-wishers arrived to find me sitting on the floor crying with nothing to show for the day but that crumpled letter.  You’ll be happy to know that I was able to be sworn in by a judge a few weeks later, but, while I still believe in my abilities, few people trust me to tell them where they need to be and when any longer.

This story has nothing to do with food other than to lead into another example of how I get something in my head and completely think it’s right and there’s no need for me to double check or think about it again.  Basically, I ended up making sweet potato muffins when, up to the minute I was about to put the sweet potato in the microwave, I thought I was making pumpkin muffins.  A coworker had given me a recipe for–the way I remembered it–pumpkin muffins a few years ago and given the autumn weather, I thought they’d be a happy treat.  I could even see the picture of the muffins in my head from the printout she gave me, but couldn’t find the recipe online and she didn’t remember it (likely because we were searching for a completely different recipe).  I finally found it this weekend when I cleaned out a folder full of dashed cooking dreams, with magazine recipes dating back to 1996.  I glanced at the recipe to make sure I had the ingredients, made out my grocery list and crafted the story behind the muffins based on the pumpkin picking I did a few weekends ago.  It was not until I was washing off the potato last night that it occurred to me that I was actually making sweet potato muffins instead of pumpkin ones.  How’s that for the power of suggestion (or my ability to kid (delude?) myself)? Even though I bought sweet potatoes, I still had it in my mind that these were all about the pumpkin… At least my efforts weren’t totally lost and I actually had the sweet potato.  And! I was right about the picture, so my long term memory seems to be fully functioning.  I take comfort wherever I can get it.

Anyhoo. They’re super yummy and moist and the cinnamon sugar coating is a nice addition, although I suppose if you want to be super healthy about it, you could leave it off.  And, I also suppose you could substitute pumpkin if your mind’s set on it…

Warm Sweet Potato Muffins with Cinnamon Sugar Coating (courtesy of Cuisine at Home)

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Cinnamon Rolls


 

I’m a total morning person. If I have work to do, I’d much rather go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 4am than stay up late.  Obviously I was a lot of fun in college.  I think I was one of the few people who actually left parties to go to bed (plus my grandfather always said nothing good happens after midnight.  Now, we all know “good” things can happen after midnight, but when you think back on it the next morning, it’s unlikely to fall into any category that constitutes good for a grandfather.  I digress…).  This saved me from gaining the notorious Freshman Fifteen, because I was tucked in well before the late night pizzas were delivered.  Senior year, I instituted the 11:30pm rule in our house which meant that on a school night, no one was allowed to wake me up unless the house was on fire, I was on fire or someone had died.  Don’t you wish you’d lived with me?  The 11:30 rule has become the 10:30 rule since I now live in a CST timezone.  I’m really not kidding about this; I’ve actually had friends ask if they can break the 10:30 rule to call me (I usually say yes…).

I have no idea where I was going with this (I actually wrote that paragraph last night and then, guess what? I got sleepy, so I’m finishing it this morning and have no idea what I was going to say next.  True story.).  At any rate, I truly believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day for many reasons, but it’s rare that I have anything more than cereal.  I really want to be one of those people who wakes up and squeezes orange juice to go with my freshly made waffles and crisp bacon, but for all of my morning person-ness, this is likely never to happen.  Why would I do that when there are perfectly good brunch spots within walking distance? I’m all for reinventing the wheel recipe-wise, but not if it’s going to stand in the way of bacon, you know?

So I was all over making these cinnamon rolls because I was craving them and it was too cold and rainy to go outside just for baked goods, especially when I had a delicious recipe from The Chopping Block and all of the ingredients.  But, you know what? I should have braved the elements because these are so ridiculously time consuming that I didn’t even want them half way through.  Seriously. It took me an hour to make the dough, what with the cooling times and mixing and figuring out how many ounces are in 3-3/4 cups of flour (that last part has more to do with my math skills than the recipe).  At any rate, I decided to just let the dough rise overnight, because it was close to lunch time by the time I finished making it and I couldn’t be bothered.  Putting them together was another lengthy process and all I could think was thank goodness there was no one waiting for these because they would likely have given up on me and gone out to get the canned version that bakes in 10 minutes.

That said, they are as ridiculously tasty as they are ridiculously time consuming.  The dough is sweet and chewy and I created a little icing based on the bourbon bread pudding version that is lick your fingers worthy.  So, if you are a total morning person who wants to spend some quiet time kneading dough while everyone else sleeps, make these this weekend.  Otherwise, I’ll catch you at brunch.  I’ll be the girl in the back cozying up to a plate of bacon…

Cinnamon Rolls (courtesy of The Chopping Block)

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Guest Post: Blueberry Muffins with a Gazpacho Chaser


Summer has come and gone and I admit to being more than a little sad about it.  I’m really not ready to pull out the fall gear, and the idea of heavy winter anything–clothes, food, boots–makes me a little twitchy. Luckily Heidi of Green Roof Growers is able to help me hang on to summer a bit longer with these lovely (98% of the time!) blueberry goodies and tasty home grown tomato treats.  Long live summer!

Clafoutis, Zucchini Blueberry Muffins, and Blender Gazpacho: Many Variables Later

A couple weekends ago Heather came by for a long-overdue visit. I’d already decided on the insanely easy and explicitly French clafoutis [a fruit filled cake] to have for nibbles, along with some gazpacho made with our roof-grown organic tomatoes.

I’ve made dozens of clafoutis (it’s one of my favorite sweets) using an equal number of recipes. Every time I see a clafouti recipe online I see it as a sign to Make Clafouti. It’s always eggs, flour, milk, sugar, and fruit…but in varying proportions.

Frankly, I now skip all recipes that call for preheating the pan and pouring in a thin layer of batter (sorry, Julia), letting it set up in the oven, and then taking it out to receive the fruit and rest of the batter. Who needs this?

A couple days earlier I’d made this recipe–with half-plums plopped cut-side down before being bathed in the batter–with a gorgeous finish.

 

 I used the very same recipe to make a blueberry clafouti for Heather. And the results were just depressing. There are many ways a clafoutis can look (I dare you to check out this image gallery and not run to the fridge to see if you have enough eggs to make one), but this isn’t one of them.

 

Heather asked what I’d done differently. Well, said I, I used blueberries instead of plums. And it was far more humid the day I baked the blueberry. And too late I noticed one of the burners on my oven had stopped working, so it wasn’t up to temperature when I slid in the pan.

(Heather is doubled over with laughter at this point.) “Anything else?!” she squeaked out. Well, it was so hot outside and there are so many new restos on our block sucking power away from us that the voltage stream to the oven was compromised (who except my smart boyfriend with a voltage meter knew this could even happen?).

Heidi’s Zucchini Blueberry Muffins

Undaunted, I’d also whipped up a couple batches of my favorite blueberry muffins for the folks working our honey harvest the following day. I assure you that this recipe can withstand the vagaries of baking in an uncertain oven…and how can I make that assertion? I baked them in the same under-heated oven (just longer than usual) as the clafoutis.

This altered recipe for zucchini bread delivers a 200-calorie muffin that makes people want to eat five, replacing a lot of the high-gluten white flour with quick oats.

Recipe

Two bowls are needed: a large bowl for the wet ingredients, sugar, and oats + a smaller one for the scant dry ingredients and blueberries.

Preheat oven: 375 degrees

Baking time: 20 minutes

Broiler time: a minute or so to brown the muffin tops after they’re done baking (optional)

Oil a 12-cup muffin tin before you start…

Wet bowl

  • 1 medium zucchini, shredded (1 heaping cup)
  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil (olive oil or canola)
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

 Combine the mix well, moistening the oats so they absorb the liquids while you prepare the dry bowl.

  Dry bowl

  • ¾ cup white flour or pastry wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

 Use a whisk to mix the dry ingredients.  Then add 2 heaping cups fresh or frozen blueberries, tossing to coat.

Mixing dry into wet

Pour the dry ingredients into the wet bowl and, using a rubber spatula, blend using confident, large strokes. The idea is not to thoroughly combine the ingredients (though if you do this the sky won’t fall), but rather to combine to a point where you still see some dry flour in the mix.

Use a quarter-cup measure to fill the muffin tin. Then shake a little extra cinnamon and nutmeg onto the top of each muffin. These are not extremely sweet tidbits, so if you like sugar, sprinkle a little on top of each muffin for extra sweetness.

Bake @ 375 for 20 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for ten minutes or so and then remove the muffins to the rack to cool completely.

Gazpacho

Meanwhile, the Mark Bittman Gazpacho was coming together. I realized too late that Heather has had her issues with Bittman (something about a chocolate cake?), but his basic gazpacho is a farmers market girl’s dream.

I had the blender half-full when Heather arrived, with extra cukes because I’d bought a bunch at the Wicker Park Farmers Market.

Not in the recipe, but we chopped and tossed in handfuls of fresh basil from the window boxes out front and added stale bread (that is part of the recipe).

Then we whizzed it up in the blender and strained it all through my new chinoise, a lovely gift from a thoughtful boyfriend (he’s not all about voltage meters). Adjust the sherry vinegar to your palate—we like a little bite.

No final photo, but this is the quickest soup you’ll ever make, smooth as silk. If you like a rougher soup, there’s no need to strain. And…if it’s the dead of winter, using canned tomatoes produces an equally delectable result.

Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce


In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s May. MAY, people.  Although I’m incredibly grateful to have survived another Chicago winter (a mild one. Thanks, Mother Nature!), I can’t believe how fast time is going.  It seems like just yesterday I was whipping up red velvet cupcakes in anticipation of Valentine’s Day.  May is one of my fave months, mainly because there is no chance of snow (knock on wood), but also because it’s both Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday.  As someone who would seriously do crafts all day long if allowed and could easily spend a month’s salary at Michaels in an hour, you can imagine that as a kid, I loved that entire school days were spent making Mother’s Day presents.  One year we made jewelry boxes out of cigar boxes topped with macaroni sprayed gold (query the wisdom of having 6 year olds ask their parents to purchase a box of cigars for that project) and another time we made collages of our baby pictures (I’m sure my mother appreciated me cutting up family photos).

At some point in life, it stops being appropriate to make your mother a present and you actually have to save up your allowance and purchase something. Enter many bottles of 2nd rate perfumes and tangles of costume jewerly (to be stored in the jewelry box she’s saved all those years).  The thing is, no matter what you give your mom, she loves it–truly and honestly–because she loves you.  And that is why you will always see men in Walgreens the morning of Mother’s Day buying huge mylar balloons and Russell Stover candy. 

My mother, thank goodness, cannot stand the idea of Mother’s Day brunch, so we have been spared chaffing dishes and carving stations over the years.  We usually go out to dinner, but a few years ago I decided to cook.  Mom had gone to New Orleans and brought back a cookbook from the Gumbo Shop, so I decided to make a Louisiana dinner of gumbo and bread pudding.  Even though I’ve always loved cooking and baking, it wasn’t until recently that I actually had a bit of a clue on how things worked in the kitchen and how to interpret a recipe.  So when the gumbo recipe said that I needed to boil a whole chicken in order to make stock, it never occurred to me that I could buy chicken stock.  Or that I didn’t actually need to cut the French bread into 1 inch cubes; tearing it up into relatively even pieces would be quite all right.  I spent the entire day in the kitchen, stirring and cutting and sauteeing and rather than relaxing on Mother’s Day, my mom spent most of the day worrying that (i) I was going to set the entire kitchen on fire and (ii) that I was doing too much.  I think that she was equally grateful to sit down to dinner (likely at 9pm) as she was for all of my effort.  This was likely 6 or 7 years ago, and all these years later she still talks about how hard I worked that day.  Like she never went out above and beyond in the kitchen for me (she has).

I promise to write about the gumbo recipe soon (I bought chicken stock this past weekend), but I’m going to recommend you commit this bread pudding recipe to memory before Sunday and impress your mom (or aunt or mom-to-be or friend-who-is-like-a-mom or just someone you really love).  It is decadence on a plate and a tip of whiskey mixed with butter and sugar never hurt anyone.  I know a lot of folks have had bad (read: soggy) bread pudding experiences, but this version is more like a super moist cake.   When I did it for Mother’s Day, I made whipped cream instead of the sauce, but after making the sauce on Sunday, I pretty much plan on putting it on everything I ever bake again. So yeah, stick with the sauce.

I took my mom some of the bread pudding I made over the weekend and she said it was even better than the one I made all those years ago.  Of course, that got her started talking about how hard I worked that day and how she can’t believe that I spent the whole day in the kitchen making everything from scratch just for her.  But I, and everyone who has ever met my mom, knows that she is totally, completely, without a doubt, would do it again (and then some) in a heartbeat, worth it…

Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce (from the Gumbo Shop Cookbook)

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1000 Words


You know that I usually have some holiday themed food to post, but I’m going to blame the fact that I actually went to watch the Chicago river get dyed green instead of going grocery shopping for why there is no corned beef or soda bread or even a green cupcake recipe to mark this St. Patrick’s day.  I hope the fact that I have on a green shirt will make up for it.

Since I have no food words, I thought I’d let some pictures do the talking.  I take a lot of pictures of food.  No seriously, a lot.  For each picture that’s posted, at least 10 have been taken.  This is mainly due to the fact that I’m not a photographer and I have a fancy camera that I barely know how to use. 

I’ve taken a photograhpy class, but this was back in the day before digital cameras (or at least around the time that many people thought they’d go the way of the laser disc) and the class was all about using a manual 35mm.  What I remember from that class about f-stops and apertures and lighting would only fill 1/8 of a teaspoon. 

Prior to September, all of the pictures here at Pestle Mortar were taken with an adorable Canon PowerShot on the macro setting.  I seriously took 100 pictures for 1 picture to turn out.  Once I decided to make a commitment to this blogging thing, I decided to invest in a DSLR and a real macro lens.  I bought a Pentax, because that’s the camera my photographer father always used and I could use the lenses that he gave me for my old 35mm. 

I try to take the camera with me so that I can practice (easier than actually reading the manual!) and I end up taking a lot of pictures that are this close to being really good, a few that are actually pretty good and a bucket load of ones that never see the light of day.  I don’t do any editing of the ones that are posted here, other than to crop and lighten/darken a bit.

So here are my 1000 words for today– my favorite practice food pictures that don’t really have a story to go along with them, so they never got a chance to be part of their own post. 

Cornbread Stuffing


When I was a kid I had an irrational fear of three things: being kidnapped, quicksand and being poisoned.  The first two I blame on Scooby Doo and Bugs Bunny cartoons (no, seriously.  Those dang kids in the Mystery Machine were always getting themselves in trouble and would wind up in some haunted mansion tied up and left to fend for themselves and some Warner Bros. character was always either setting a trap over quicksand or falling into a pit of it.  Where I thought I’d find a pit of quicksand in downtown Chicago was beside the point.  As is this lenghty parenthetical, I realize). 

The poisoning was a little more rational, or at least a little more understandable.  My family, coming from an island, always worried about food spoiling if left out too long.  They would also get packages of canned food items from Jamaica like ackee–which were hard to find in New York–and talk of botchulism swirled around my grandmother’s kitchen (unripened ackee can also kill you, so there was that added delight).  I barely understood what they were talking about, but I knew enough to be afraid that one bite of the wrong thing could spell the end of me (dramatic? Me? Never…).

Anytime a turkey was involved the question of whether to put the stuffing inside or bake it separately came up, because stuffing left in the cavity of the bird could spoil, and you guessed it, kill us all.   It was a great debate each year, because the stuffing was more moist if baked inside the turkey, and that, for some reason, seemed worth the risk.  I wasn’t taking any chances, though, so I never ate stuffing unless it was of the Stovetop variety.  I refused to taste it, and truth be told, the texture and mushy look of it (plus the addition of things like giblets) let me know I wasn’t missing anything.

I’m not sure when my boycott against stuffing ended, but a few years ago I found a recipe (in a magazine ad for chicken stock) that sounded too good to pass up.  And it is so delicious that I make extra and freeze it so I can have some on a random Tuesday after Thanksgiving.  The recipe is also super easy, especially if you cheat and use Jiffy cornbread mix instead of making your own.  It’s moist and not the least bit mushy (thanks to the bits of french bread) and since you bake it separately from the turkey, there is no risk of poisoning yourself or your family, which is always a good thing….  Happiest of Thanksgivings to you!

Cornbread Stuffing

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Total Hibernation Mode


I wish I could tell you that I’ve been doing all manner of exciting things over the last few weeks and that’s why I haven’t cooked, baked or done more than microwave dinner–let alone write a word about food–since it was technically winter.   I’ve been wanting to talk about the Moroccan cooking class I took a few weeks ago and the roof-top garden a friend has started and my search for dry butter so I can finally make croissants like they do in France, but in all honesty, it’s kind of hard to find the words to describe all those things when it’s so unrelentingly cold that you think your eyeballs might freeze and instead of using your oven for baking treats, it’s on solely to warm up the house.

I am hopeful that with the arrival of spring my need to cook and feed people will return, that my brain will thaw and that I’ll be inspired by fresh ingredients.  In the meantime, here are some pictures of things I’ve been meaning to tell you about, just to whet your appetite…

chocolate-chip-cookies2

Chocolate Chip Cookies

pumpkin-soup2

Pumpkin Soup

croissant1

Perfect Croissant Baguette

Glamour Bread


The summer before my senior year of college, I had a very random but well paid job where my main duty was to organize my boss’s office.  He was the legal counsel for the company and technically I was supposed to be learning something that would help me with law school applications, but I really spent my days reading books and magazines, making long distance phone calls and writing letters to my friends (ha! I’ve totally dated myself there. None of us had email at the time!).  I am not normally so irresponsible, especially when it comes to a job, but my boss was never there and after a week or two of trying to come up with projects, I’d get my filing done first thing in the morning and then enjoy my paid freedom.

 

For some odd reason, there were many years’ worth of Glamour magazines lying around (odd because my boss was a 45 year old man, but I’m not going to concern myself with that just now) which I would read cover to cover at my desk.  I turned 21 that summer, so of course I thought I was completely grown, knew everything and was just marking time until I would graduate and start on my adventurous, exciting, full of nothing but happiness and fun adult life.  Needless to say, the pages of Glamour, with their do’s and don’ts on everything from clothes to men to jobs became my bible.  I tore out page after page of what I should do and wear and say and eat and studied them with an intensity I maybe should have applied to my actual job.  I had spent my junior year in Paris, so the pressure was intense to return to college fashionable and worldly.

 

Each issue featured a recipe that a glamorous 20-something should master so that she could effortlessly whip up a little something in case a friend was sick or a gentleman caller showed up unannounced.  I tore out a lot of them, but I think the only one that I actually tried was for the herb-garlic focaccia.  I practiced it a couple of times over the summer and then took the recipe back to college where I would mix up the dough before class, come back during lunch to stretch and pull it into the baking pan and then bake it in time for dinner when we’d have a few friends over to drink cheap wine and talk about what life would be like after graduation. 

  

It’s a totally deceptive recipe, because it looks like you really worked hard on it, but is actually incredibly easy (which was probably the point of all of those recipes).  Once you get the basics down, you can add anything you want to it, varying the herbs or adding cheese or tomatoes.

 

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Even though things were not glamorous or fun for a very long time after college, I love that at some point I was innocent enough to believe that studying lists of the top 25 must haves and mastering a few recipes were the key to happiness.   Looking back, I think the fun was in the expectation of what lay ahead, that there would be places to wear all of the clothes I coveted and unexpected suitors who showed up at my door hungry.  Obviously it takes a bit more work than glossy magazines would lead you to think, but when you can cut into a warm slice of tasty bread that you made yourself in your own kitchen with good friends around you, it kind of seems worthwhile…

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Herb-Garlic Focaccia (this is the exact recipe from Glamour.  At the bottom are some tweaks)

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Hummus, My Way


I remember the very first time I ate hummus. It was 1992, salsa was just making its way out of the “ethnic” food aisle, and my sister’s boyfriend (now my brother-in-law) had whipped up a batch of a strange garlicky mush called “hummus.” I loved it then and have not stopped loving it since. However, after the novelty wore off, I turned out not to be such a big fan of tahini, the goopy sesame paste that is a key ingredient in most hummos recipes. In a renegade move (some might have previously called it maverick), I cut out the middle man by eliminating tahini entirely from my recipe and using toasted sesame seeds instead. Though totally unorthodox, using sesame seeds instead of sesame paste adds texture and flavor without compromising sesame goodness. Even my husband, a picky Middle Easterner and serious hummus connoisseur, approves of my new version.

  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large, 28 oz. can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ tsp. salt (or more, to taste)

In a small skillet, heat up 1 Tbs. of olive oil. When warm, add the sesame seeds. Stir until toasted, roughly five minutes, making sure they don’t burn. Put the toasted sesame seeds into a food processer and process until some of the sesame seeds are ground up. Add the chickpeas, garlic, coriander, lemon, and salt to the food processor and continue to process. While the machine is on, slowly add the remaining 1 Tbs. olive and process until it turns into smooth and creamy. (You can add more olive oil or water if you need to.)

Hummus is a perfect appetizer for holiday parties. To give it some extra flare, add a roasted red pepper or some fresh Italian parley before processing or garnish with toasted pine nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature, drizzled with olive oil and paprika, preferably accompanied by fresh, warm pita.

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