Category Archives: Cooking

eggs, history, and sweets

In An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, Tamar Adler weaves together methods about “How to Teach an Egg to Fly” and her opinion mirrors my philosophy: “meals still qualify as meals if they are eggless. But an egg can turn anything into a meal and is never so pleased as when it is allowed to.” A fried or poached egg is the perfect punctuation mark to leftovers or odds & ends that need to be eaten. I love eggs, and this love will never grow old or tired. If I ever open a restaurant, I will hire a person to walk around and ask people if they would like a fried egg with that instead of a grind or two of pepper. They are that important.

The food historian in me has always wondered how eggs have become so integral to our diet. Egg-based pasta and noodles, egg drop soup, frittatas, potato latkes, lamb and egg tagines, omelettes — the savory applications are countless and wholesome. But what really gets me is the foundation eggs provide for the world of baking and pastry. Mastering the potential of an egg–its yolks and whites, separately or together–seems to be a precursor to mastering true desserts.

My 100 word preview of the Encyclopedia Britannia article on the use of eggs in baking elucidated only the how, not the when or who. I learned that yolks are 50 percent solid (60 percent of which is strongly emulsified fat), and they effect the color, flavor, and texture of baked goods. Whites, on the other hand, are mostly protein with no fat, and are most important for texture. They also hold air well. (NB: My use of the word “learned” above is very generous.) I was pleased when a slightly more aggressive set of Internet search terms led to The Food Timeline and an FAQ about eggs. It offered the following quotation from The History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Sama:

In the Roman period pastry cooks made much use of eggs for desserts as well as cakes. Apicius (25 BC) invented baked custard: milk, honey and eggs beaten and cooked in an earthenware dish on gentle heat. Eggs really made their way into the kitchen with Apicius, who mentioned them frequently in the Ars Magirica.

Lynne Olver, the author of The Food Timeline, elaborates that once eggs were recognized as binders and thickeners, their culinary applications proliferated. But when asked about when this began, she notes: “The food historians do not venture into this territory.” When one reaches this wall, one must accept defeat. And I did just that, by diving into my egg carton, separating a few eggs, and utilizing centuries of culinary wisdom with no known origin. I made Meyer lemon curd (below) and almond meringues (in progress above), and reinforced that while I can eat lemon curd all day, I’m not big into meringue cookies.

This particular curd & meringue night was before Christmas, and I put the jar of lemon curd in my Mom’s stocking. I hear she stirred it into whipped cream as topping for angel food cake, another egg white-heavy treat. She allowed the yolk and white to meet and mingle on the dessert plate, and it sounded divine.

Tonight, I answered cries from my sweet tooth by revisiting this treatment of eggs: separating them and letting the parts grow independently bigger than the whole, creating cranberry curd and chocolate cookies. I utilized Alton Brown’s lemon curd recipe but replaced the lemon juice with unsweetened cranberry juice  and the lemon zest with orange blossom water. The result was ethereal, complete with tart, sweet, and perfume-y notes.

To care for my egg whites, I made François Payard’s Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies. These are perfect for anyone who lusts after chewy brownies, so everyone. They taste like crunchy walnut Nutella. Unlike meringues, which are made from whites whipped into stiff peaks, these cookies utilize whites in their original form as the only liquid ingredient besides a bit of vanilla extract. They came out looking exactly like those pictured above and are now added to my list of future party favorites. Make them for your gluten-free friends, your Jewish friends (or self) during Passover (as recommended by the NYMag article), or if you would like the smell of chocolate and toasted walnuts to permeate your home.

Thank you, eggs, for making possible so many culinary wonders.

biography of a simple dinner

My cooking style these days often strays far from recipes and sticks close to the desires of my eyes, stomach, and mind. My ingredients also speak to me: that cabbage is finally getting old, I have way too many eggs (is there such a thing?), the hidden apple butter was suddenly noticed after months of unintentional neglect, or I take a whiff of Chinese five spice and all neurons fire “YES.” Since the messages from my mind’s eye and kitchen’s pantry change every day, I rarely replicate meals exactly.

But two nights ago, I had a simple, rustic meal for dinner that I repeated tonight and will repeat whenever the I have all of the ingredients at once:  a heaping pile of warm greens over country bread and ricotta, a celestial combination of some of my favorite Maine eats so far.

I caramelized leeks in a trifecta of butter, rendered bacon fat, and olive oil. Then, I threw in several handfuls of chopped kale that I had previously de-stemmed. This helps prevent kale from wilting, similar to how removing carrot tops keeps the root firm. (Important: I threw the stems into a jar  with garlic, fenugreek, and a dried chile and covered them with a boiling mixture of water, apple cider vinegar and maple syrup for an impromptu refrigerator pickle.)

While the kale was wilting, I toasted a thick slice of country bread from Scratch Baking Co. in South Portland. This bread is baked in huge 18-inch rounds at least 6 inches high, so the folks at Scratch sell more manageable quarter- and half-loaves as well. On my way back from visiting a friend in Portland for the weekend, I picked up a quarter loaf in addition to a dozen  perfect bagels, this establishment’s claim to fame and key to my heart.

After the bread was toasted, I rubbed both sides with raw garlic, a move that elevates toast from plebian to glorious, and smeared a generous portion of Lakin’s Gorges Cheese Basket-Molded Ricotta, a Rockport-based artisanal cheese made using organic Maine milk. I saw owner Allison Lakin speak at the Camden Library about her transition from museum jobs and an anthropology degree to owning her own cheese-making business, and I have been wanting to support this soul-sister financially ever since. Her ricotta is different, as it is left to drain to the point where it is sliceable. I opted to smear it (heavily) on the garlic-rubbed toast and never look back.

I poured the kale and leeks over the ricotta-smeared toast, and topped the whole thing off with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Voilà: a dinner that managed, with each bite, to evolve through light, sweet, smokey, spicy, creamy, crunchy, salty, and chewy. And everything except the olives in the foreground and the olive oil was produced in Maine, within about 30 miles of my house. I’m real into it.

anginetti (italian love knots)

One day approximately five months ago, my friend Daniel and I made Italian love knot cookies. For some reason (thesis, job applications, and otherwise being a senior), I never got around to posting the gorgeous pictures he shot or the recipe we used. I simply glommed the cookies and moved on with my life. Time to remedy that! All of the pictures were taken by Dan.

Moleskine Recipe Journal, courtesy my handsome and lovely brother Johnny

Cookie Ingredients

Icing Ingredients

Cookies Waiting to be Baked

Post-Oven

Dipping

On Drip Tray, with Zest Garnish

crusty whole wheat bread

My quest to find the best bread recipe is slowly progressing. I made a couple of loaves this past semester at Haverford, one of which approached perfection. Last night, I decided to venture into the land of baking bread in a pot, and I  mixed dough that would be baked 18 hours later in a soup pot in my oven.

Crusy Whole Wheat Bread (Adapted from the Mark Bittman via Serene Journey)
Yields 1 loaf

3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups water

Combine whole wheat flour, yeast, and salt in a bowl. Stir in as much of the water as you need to make a sticky dough.

Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 12 to 18 hours. After that time, pour the dough out onto a floured surface and fold it twice onto itself. Let rest for 15 minutes under plastic wrap.

Heavily flour a cotton towel, but not terry cloth. Place the dough on the towel, and drape with another. Let rise for 2 hours. Thirty minutes before the rise time is complete, preheat the oven to 450° F. Place your heaviest pot in the oven, ideally cast iron or enamel.

When the dough has fully risen, it will have doubled in size and not spring back to the touch. At this point, remove the pot from the oven and turn the dough over into it. Shake it around a bit to even it out. Place the pot back in the oven, making sure the lid is on. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on and 15-30 minutes with the lid off, to ensure a crispy, browned crust.

lemon lavender cookies

My first act as a college graduate was to sleep until 3:45 pm. My second was to get a new iPhone. My third, to prepare a hot dog dinner with an absurd amount of condiments for my family. And finally, I made some cookies.

Despite my efforts to use up everything in my kitchen before graduating, the contents of my college kitchen nearly doubled the mass of stuff in my home kitchen. My mother and I have spent the past hour or so consolidating our flour, crushed red pepper flakes, and other normal ingredients, and moving all of my “weird” ingredients (i.e., rosewater, turmeric, chow chow, Indian pickle) to the basement fridge.

Lemon Lavender Cookies (Adapted from a Feed the Editor recipe)
Yields 2 dozen 3-inch cookies or 3 dozen 2-inch cookies

These lemon lavender cookies drew equally from my ingredients and my mom’s, and what a wonderful marriage they are.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons dried lavender buds
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Juice of a small lemon
Zest of a small lemon

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Combine flour, almond meal, baking soda, baking powder, lavender buds, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix thoroughly.

Microwave butter in a dish for 15 seconds, until slightly softened. Whisk together with 3/4 cups of the granulated white sugar in a large bowl for about 2 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla extra, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Stir until combined.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing between additions.

Spoon a heaping tablespoon of cookie dough into a small bowl that has the last 1/4 of the granulated white sugar. Toss the dough ball around into the sugar to coat. Place on a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat. (Oh, the joy of being at home and having access to my mother’s Silpat!)

Bake for 8-9 minutes. They are done when they are golden brown around the edges.

brunch: pumpkin pancakes with ginger maple syrup

As a continuation of my manic obsession with taking home as little food as possible from school, I chose a can of pumpkin, the tail end of a box of crystallized ginger, and the last quarter of a bag of whole wheat flour as my victims for yesterday’s brunch. I woke up early (10:00 am…) and had a morning yoga session outside. My body hasn’t been physically challenged in a couple of months, so it was a little surprised with some of the stretches and strength exercises. I didn’t eat before it because I didn’t want a stomach full of food getting in the way of my warrior pose, but by the end, I was quickly approaching a ravenous state. Pancakes to the rescue.

Pumpkin Pancakes (adapted from this recipe)
Yields 15 4-inch pancakes

The batter of these pancakes ended up thicker than most other pancake batters I have encountered so they took a little bit longer to cook, but the end result was pillowy and fluffy. I think the secret ingredient is 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, which interacts with the baking powder and baking soda (and maybe the milk) in a magical way. I ate them with a smothering of apple butter, butter butter, chopped walnuts, and maple syrup that I had simmered with some chopped crystallized ginger. If you like ginger but not too much, you can boil the syrup with ginger and then strain it out. As I was eating these pancakes in all of their sweetness, I started thinking about how good the same pumpkin pancake recipe would be with garam masala, or even garlic powder, instead of pumpkin pie spice, no sugar, and twice the salt. It would be a really interesting, last-minute alternative to naan.

1 3/4 cup milk
1 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vinegar.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Slowly whisk into the pumpkin mixture until the two are just combined.

Heat a lightly buttered frying pan over medium high heat. Pour 1/4 cup of the batter onto the pan for each pancake. Brown on both sides, approximately 3-4 minutes, and serve hot.

seasonal supper!

I have been doing a lot of cooking with a couple of my freshmen since the beginning of the year. Three of us decided to pick an ingredient every month and cook as many things as we could with that ingredient throughout the month. This month is apples (with butternut/acorn squash on the side). November is going to be pumpkin month; I sense Pumpkin Feta Muffins and Black Bean Pumpkin Soup in my near future.

Anyway, the more exciting part of this seasonal ingredient is that we decided to make it into a Haverford club! We realized that there are cooking and baking skills that either one or the other of us have, and we wanted to create a space where Haverford students could come together around a common ingredient and exchange recipes and kitchen prowess. Sick! A more official Haverford announcement will be released soon, but I am so so so excited. I love teaching people how to cook and I love learning new skills, so, selfishly, the club will be excellent. I hope that the campus gets as excited about it as I am!