Thursday, April 28, 2011

White Chocolate Sugar Cookie Bars with Raspberry Frosting

 Three weeks before our college graduation and Geneva and I are considering dropping out to start a bakery. Sometimes at 11 pm on the third to last day of school that seems like a good idea. We were both baking treats for our classes to enjoy, and in our small kitchen we were quite the whirlwind of spatulas and sugar. 
Geneva's Snickerdoodles that taunted me from the oven
Geneva was baking a batch of snickerdoodles and in no time at all she was meticulously rolling the dough into balls and then coating them in cinnamon sugar. As soon as they were in the oven the tangy, sweet smells of cream of tarter and sugar filled the kitchen.
I was baking a recipe that I saw on Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice, the pictures were so cute and I bookmarked it as a way to diversify my cookie repertoire. I also thought the pink frosting would be appropriate for my class on dating and courtship, (love that I get to read books about dating and call it homework.)
This recipe was very simple to mix together and I love how bar cookies are so low maintenance, just one batch into the oven and you’re all set.
The frosting is a simple buttercream with raspberry jam mixed in, this gives it great fruity flavor and a subtle pink color. 
One batch simplicity
 On her blog Reeni suggests to put the bars into the refrigerator after frosting them. I followed suit and was amazed at what this did to the cookies. The bars were still soft and the flavor of the raspberries was intensified by the cold.
The bars were a big hit in my class, and it reminded me that raspberries and white chocolate are a winning combination.
Maybe these will be on the menu at the hypothetical Geneva and Audrey bakery. We will have to have a few more extravaganzas to find some more favorites. 
 White Chocolate Sugar Cookie Bars with Raspberry Frosting
8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup white chocolate, chopped or chips
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
about 3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup raspberry jam
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon water

Mix flour, baking soda, and salt in small bowl. Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla, and eggs one at a time. Slowly add dry ingredients. Use spatula to fold in white chocolate. Bake in a 9 x 9 pan at 375 for 14 minutes, (do not overbake even though they look very light colored, you will be thankful.) Make frosting by beating all ingredients together until smooth. Let bars cool them top with the frosting and sprinkles!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Playing Outside: Walks in Cambridge

Memorial Drive near Harvard
If you live in the Boston/New England area you are a survivor. You have made it through one of the worst winters. We have taken our weather in extreme doses. That six inches of snow wasn’t quite enough for me yesterday, can we make it a foot and a half today? Ok, great. I think I may actually be able to see my first story windows, that’s kind of a problem, can we get a little more accumulation? Spring? No thanks, I’ll take a snowstorm on April 1st.
So after a since long spring thaw days like this one should be treasured. There are many great areas to walk in the Cambridge area and two of my favorites are along the Charles River and around Fresh Pond. 
The Charles
 On Sundays Memorial Drive is closed to auto traffic and bikers, joggers, and walkers are free to take to the streets. While there are ample paths and sidewalks for all other days of the week, it is really nice to have the street empty. Without the noise and exhaust from the cars you can really enjoy a peaceful walk along the water. 
Fresh Pond through the trees
Fresh Pond is one of the largest ponds that I have seen, and is actually, in fact, a large reservoir. There is a 2.5 mile path around the pond that is great for walking, biking, and jogging. It took about 50 minutes to walk the full loop, but I stopping at times to watch the golfers or take pictures of funny things like this branch that grew around the fence. Serious power walkers like my mom and sister could have completed it faster. 
Nature's mysteries
 My favorite part about Fresh Pond is that as soon as you’re on the path you can forget that you’re in a city. It is a refreshing feeling and I can always use a little more of that in my life. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fennel and Orange Salad

In honor of Easter when ovens far and wide are stuffed full of ham and potatoes, I thought I would post a recipe that was a little on the lighter side. This is a salad that is haute enough for company and simple enough to whip up for a quick dinner.
While most people don’t have fennel bulbs laying around their houses, all the other ingredients are likely to be on hand.
The first step is to pick a fennel bulb. I had no idea what one should look for in a fennel bulb, (Mom, why did you not cover this when you were teaching me to knock on melons?) so I picked the one with the cutest tufts of leaves. 
Oh hello, little fennel.
When you get home put your bulb on the counter and take pictures of it, admiring how cute it is.
Then get down to business. Remove the hard outer layers of the bulb. (Again, I have no idea what I was doing here, I just figured that hard outer part wouldn’t be very good in my salad so I tossed it.) The inner layers of the bulb will be more moist and it will be easier to slice thin. Lay the bulb on its side and shave thin layers off the bulb. The key point here is to have a large sharp knife. The thinner the better for the shaved fennel, the anise flavor is intense and can be overwhelming if the pieces are too large.
Next, slice an orange into thin segments. However you want to go about this is up to you. I simply peeled the orange into the segments and then sliced each segment in half lengthwise so the flesh was revealed. 
 In a bowl stir together the red wine vinegar, olive oil, sugar, and orange zest. Toss the fennel, orange slices, and dried cranberries in the bowl to coat. Plate and serve.
The vinegar dressing takes the bite off of the strong, anise flavored fennel. I would imagine this dish would be great if it was prepared in advance and given time to marinate.  
Fennel and Orange Salad
1 fennel bulb
1 orange
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Butterscotch Banana Bread

 College living turns even the smallest of items into prized commodities. Brown bananas, for example. I spied them sitting on Carrie’s shelf in the kitchen and thought: is she going to use them? Is it weird if I ask to take them?
In the end I thought of the starving people all over the world and the injustice that would have occurred had Carrie thrown them away. I was obligated to take them off her hands. And make sweet, rich, banana bread with butterscotch chips.
I used the recipe from the famous Boston bakery, Flour. I have never been to Flour, that is probably some kind of crime at this stage in my Boston life. I found the recipe on, made a few adjustments, and whipped it up while wearing my floral house coat and pajamas. 
 I eliminated the crème fraiche, (if I’m in a place where I’m stealing bananas from my roommates, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that I’ll have crème fraiche,) and added a cup of butterscotch chips, (…why not?)
The butterscotch chips really did add a lil’ somethin’ somethin’ to this bread. They melted creating little pockets of sweetness in each slice and they caramelized when near the crust. I may start throwing butterscotch chips into other recipes to see what happens.

Butterscotch Banana Bread
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
2-3 bananas, very ripe, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup butterscotch chips
Mix dry ingredients. Beat sugar and eggs until fluffy. Add vanilla, oil and bananas slowly, stirring between additions. Add dry ingredients and mix together. Stir butterscotch chips into the batter. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake for an hour at 350. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Foundry on Elm, Somerville

Wednesday evening Davis Square was taken by storm by mah ladiezzz!
Ok, not quite. Mostly Bailey, Sarah, Carrie and I met with some local friends one of whom was just returning from a stay in South America. We met for drinks at Foundry on Elm, which was quite full for a Wednesday evening. They wouldn’t allow us a table because we weren’t ordering dinner, so we waited for some people to leave at the long bar in the center and grabbed some spots. 
 The beer list in extensive and we loved choosing different beers by their goofy names. Sarah tried to order a Pretty Things Fluffy White Rabbit, but they were all out. Apparently this bunny themed brew is all the rage this time of year. She settled on an equally hilarious, “Arrogant Bastard”.
I ordered a German wheat beer with a name ending in “Weissbier”. It was a “cloudy pour with hints of banana and cloves.” And I do have to toot my own horn and say that I am an expert order-er, because on the second round everyone wanted what I had. 
My second choice, a red ale
Another round of wines and beers and we were off to the races. We talked about engagements and bosses and the older girls of the bunch gave us some hints on what we can look forward to in our post-graduation 20s.
I was thankful for their encouraging words, sometimes it seems like little more than a cloudy pour. 

255 Elm Street
Somerville, MA

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Playing Outside: Marathon Monday

This year I experienced my second Marathon Monday. Last year was spent party hopping at BU and running up and down Comm Ave with a Dunkin' Donuts cup full of punch. Once in a while I would look over and realize that there was a grueling test of endurance going on. Then back to my punch.
This year was different. My friends who live in Allston invited a bunch of us out to watch the runners in their neighborhood. We were at the perfect spot on Beacon Street. There were lots of people around cheering and being festive, but not enough that the crowds were overwhelming. We were able to stand right up next to the runners and cheer them on by name.
While we may not have been running, we worked pretty hard out there. My friend Bailey made it her personal goal that if she saw any one walking, to yell, dance, fist pump and cheer them on until they started jogging again. 
The weather was perfect. The company was awesome. My voice was hoarse from yelling. And I had such a good time that even with the 2.5 hours we spent on the T the day was completely worth it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dave's Fresh Pasta, Somerville

Finding the best thing to put between two slices of bread is a quest that I feel compelled to take on. Joey and I made the attempt at it this weekend at Dave's Fresh Pasta just outside of Davis Square. Dave is selling much, much more than fresh pasta. Out of my many trips to Dave's there have been some consistencies that are characteristic of this neighborhood institution.
1. The people making the sandwiches, slicing the deli meats, or rolling the pasta will always look so much cooler than you.
2. You will spend as much on a sandwich as people spend on steak at Applebee's. (But then you will realize the sandwich is delicious and large enough to last you two meals and all will be well.)
3. You will smell like a sandwich for the rest of the day.
4. You will see many reasons to come back.

If those reasons aren't enough to make you give Dave's a shot, check out these pics of some sandwiches enjoyed by Joey and I on Saturday.
I had the smoky spicy turkey on whole wheat: cracked pepper turkey, smoked mozzarella, dill pickle, chipotle aioli, and smoked tomato mayo.
Joey had the roasted chicken salad, with lettuce, pickles, but no tomatoes, (lame.)

Dave's Fresh Pasta
81 Holland Street
(just outside Davis Square)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pear and Morbier Grilled Cheese

April is National Grilled Cheese month. While that is great and all, it’s kind of like someone telling me that it’s National Oxygen Month: ‘You get to breath air all month long!’ It’s nice, but it’s also something that you hope to be doing all year long.
So ya, I’ll gladly give grilled-cheeses the nod they deserve, but this does NOT mean that the other eleven months of the year should be grilled cheese-free. No, my friends, it does not. 
 At Whole Foods the other day I picked up a new kind of cheese, Morbier, a semi-soft cows milk cheese from France, aged 60 days (60!! Actually, I don’t know what that means…)
In honor of grilled cheese month, and in honor of my stomach that was empty and sad, I made a sandwich using my new cheese.
2 slices multi-seed bread
sliced Asian pear
sliced Morbier cheese
I can’t believe it’s not butter
Butter one slice of bread and put it butter side down on a griddle. Lay cheese and pear slices on top. Top with second piece of bread, spread butter on the top of the second piece. Cook until cheese is melting, you may have you keep the heat on low so the bread doesn’t burn. Flip and cook until the other side is brown and toasty. 
This cheese was nice for a grilled cheese sandwich because it melted perfectly, just oozing out with every bite. I could have enjoyed a sharper flavor to accompany the pear. This imperfect pairing will not stop me from trying new cheese with cute packaging and names I don’t understand. I refuse. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sweet and Tangy Carrots

Sometimes you buy frozen vegetables for 88 cents and leave them in your freezer for five months. At some point during that five months you may or may not have taken them out of the freezer, used them to ice your ankle after soccer practice, and then put them back in. Then one day you may decide that it is time that the bag of aged and tired frozen vegetables to find another home, namely in your stomach. And then you cook them and pretend that eating something from a bag that was once pressed against your sweaty leg is not gross.
As Geneva and I have been saying for years, germs are good. You need just enough to keep you immune.
 Anyways, if you’re not horrified about the materials put into this recipe, then keep reading and maybe try it at home. 
The injured soldier: frozen baby carrots
The doctors: honey dijon mustard, brown sugar, olive oil.
The cure: Microwave 1 cup of carrots until thawed and empty excess water. Toss with a heaping tablespoon of the dijon until coated. Heat ½ teaspoon olive oil in a pan. Add carrots. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons brown sugar over top and stir to coat. Let them sit if you like slightly charred edges, keep stirring if you don’t. Cook until the sugar is carmelized on the carrots and they are piping hot. Salt and pepper and serve.
Devour and appreciate the best 88 cents you’ve spent in a while.

Baked, Brooklyn

 I was interviewing at a location in Red Hook, Brooklyn. There is nothing more stressful that navigating discombobulated transportation on the way to an interview. I didn’t even know there were places in New York that required taking a subway and two buses.
Alas, there I was standing outside of the building after my interview, wondering how the hell I was going to get home. Hail a cab? Fat chance, the only yellow vehicles were Mack trucks driving to the construction site down the road. I was exhausted and wasn’t thinking quickly enough to come up with a plan.
A fellow interviewee asked if I wanted to go to Baked, the famous Brooklyn Bakery. ‘Awhaaaa?!’ I responded. Somehow I had ended up in a faraway land, and yet in this land there were world renowned baked goods just around the corner?
Yes and yes.
Baked was everything I wanted it to be, mostly a respite from my morning of standing on my feet and thinking about my every move.
Am I smiling enough? Or am I smiling too much? Can’t be that over-eager, over-smiler.
Only use proper vocab and big words only use proper vocab and big words.
Did I just say “okie dokie’?
So after my stressful morning of interviewing, I needed a booth seat and some sugar. Baked just stepped up to the plate and provided. 
 I ordered the Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake. It achieved coffee cake perfection. All of the flavor of a sweet, cinnamony dough, with those pockets of air that make it seem to melt on your tongue. The crumble topping was nutty, buttery, and delicious, and it was placed on top with what had to be magic. There is nothing worse than when some delicious thing with crumble topping loses all of the crumble.
My new friend and fellow interview survivor ordered the Chocolate Chip Banana Bread. It was dense and generously studded with chocolate. The bread was more dense than I normally like banana bread, it was more akin to a pound cake that meant serious business. Nonetheless, the flavors were phenomenal. 
 I hope I get the chance to return to Baked, it is worth the multiple modes of transportation necessary to get there. The staff at Baked was kind enough to let us linger for an hour while we missed our bus four times, I really have no explanation for this expect for that I was in a post-mental strain, post-sugar rush coma. Take me back I want to do it again. 

359 Van Brunt Street
Brooklyn, New York

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bella Blu, New York

Wednesday night I met my brother and a family friend for dinner in New York after a long day of interviews. The previous night I had gotten off a bus at 8:00pm, spent the next hour sprinting around midtown trying to find poster board, and then ended up grabbing a slice of pizza by myself in a sad, lonely deli. So needless to say, I was looking forward to a proper meal without the shame and isolation. 
 We entered Bella Blu on the upper east side and were pointed towards our friend waiting at the bar. The atmosphere was a mixture of styles; colorful murals on the wall suggested classic Italian, popular music playing over the din of voices created the feel of a nightspot, and a formal wait staff and table setting set the tone for the delicious food. 
 Wine came first. After a day of interviews, which included spilling coffee on the only blouse I brought for the day, navigating my way back from the fringes of Brooklyn, and lots of forced smiling, I was very ready for a glass of the good stuff. Our friend was well-versed in wine, and his choice was fantastic. Lacking the proper knowledge and vocabulary to describe wine, I will say that it was red, Italian, and delicious. 
 The waiter immediately brought out two different kinds of bread snacks, one was a traditional bread basket with a spicy tomato tapenade, and the second was a basket of small pieces of cheeseless pizza.
For a first course, we shared the stracciatella on recommendation from the waiter. They divided it up into thirds for us, each of us getting a plate with a generous portion of cheese, prosciutto, arugula and tomatoes. The cheese was divine. It was formed into a tubular mound, but it was so soft and fresh that it just fell apart at any pressure from my fork. It was creamy and perfectly salty.
 This restaurant recommendation was given to my brother under the condition that he must order the lobster arribiatta. I am not even sure if this dish was on the menu, but the waiter said he could make it happen. His dish was a whole lobster with spicy tomato spaghetti. The pasta was served in an open lobster shell. The manager came over when I was taking a picture and asked jokingly if I was going to steal his recipe. The lobster was fresh and rich, but I didn’t love the pairing with the tomato sauce. I think there are better ways to serve lobster. 
 I ordered the pan-roasted Chilean sea bass with clams, mussels, and thyme in chardonnay sauce. My dish was divine. All of the elements were executed perfectly. The bass was thick-cut and roasted to perfection, the inside  was moist and flaky and there was a slight crust on top. The shellfish had a strong briny taste and their flavor became infused with the light sauce. The chardonnay sauce was reduced to the ideal consistency and its light flavor complimented the subtle flavors of the bass. There were so many delicious looking options on the menu, but I would have a very hard time going back and not ordering this again. 
We denied dessert because our dinners had been enough, but the waiter brought a tiramisu for the table and I wasn’t mad about it. The wait staff was attentive and provided helpful suggestions as well as delicious extras. Put this on the agenda for a special night out.

70th and Lexington
New York

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Grilled Cheese Boy, Boston

 When I saw a grilled cheese shop in South Station I knew I wanted something to do with it. Although I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the name.
Is it “boy, it’s a grilled cheese!” Or
“Get me a grilled cheese, boy.” Or
“F$*k being a real boy, I want to be a grilled cheese boy.” –Pinocchio.
Regardless of what inspired the title, I think it’s a grand idea. I was on my way to New York and thought it was the perfect place to grab lunch before sitting on a bus for four hours. Besides, I learned from my last jaunt on the Bolt that the buses stop at the jankiest of food locations. Roy Rogers? What even is that? 
 So grilled cheese it was. Grilled Cheese Boy breaks it down real simple like. Pick your bread, pick your cheese, pick your toppings. The breadth of choices wasn’t huge, which I consider a good thing sometimes because it generally means that the ingredients that they have are fresh and of quality. This was definitely the case. I ordered a sandwich with cheddar and onions on Italian bread. The service was pleasant and the sandwich came in a cute little box. (Bonus points for Grilled Cheese Boy for dominating the Cute and Little category.) 
 The service was pleasant and the sandwich was ready promptly. The price was definitely reasonable, my sandwich was just over four dollars. The bread was crispy on the outside but I didn’t feel that it had been doused in butter. The cheddar was sharp and tangy, it didn’t need to be piled on to get all of cheesy flavor. The red onions were slightly softened from the hot sandwich, but they weren’t separated enough, so sometimes I ended up pulling several out with one bite. And then there were onions falling down my face and no onions in my sandwich, which led to the awkward, “do I or do I not put this fallen material back into my sandwich?” I looked left, looked right, realized I was in South Station and knew no one anyways, and stuffed them back in.
Grilled Cheese Boy is a fine stop for a meal or a snack. I enjoyed my lunch and found it to be savory and cheesy without the massive brick-in-your-stomach feeling. I would not, however, go out of my way to go there. 

South Station Train Course
Boston, MA

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Homemade Oreos

I don’t want to seem like I’m critical. I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to right a wrong. I know, ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it.’ Oreos, I am not saying that you are broke, I swear. Please forgive my disloyalty. 
 But in the meantime, check out these cookies! Recreations of the classic Oreo have been popping up on the web, I felt that I had to give it a shot. Plus, I was going to visit Joey and boxes of treats are never rejected in an apartment filled with boys, so I figured even if they weren’t perfect someone would eat them.
The recipe details were slightly misleading, the chocolate cookies are called ‘wafers’. To me, wafers are the skinny girls of the cookie world. They are little delicate waifs who are crumbly and light, and they bat their little cookie eyelashes and tease all the boys.
These cookies would slap a wafer upside the head. 
 The first step is to make the chocolate cookies. The dough comes together simply by mixing all ingredients in the food processor. I love when batters or dough can be made all in one place.
The cookies ended up in the oven and suddenly my house smelled like brownies and it was heaven.
While the cookies were cooling, I whipped up some frosting with butter, shortening, vanilla, and powdered sugar. This was somewhat of a task because I was using a food processor when I really needed a mixer of some sort. It was like combing your hair with a toothbrush, just not the most efficient way to do things.
The last step was creating the sandwiches. This step was not my finest display of baking skill. Lacking a frosting bag and piping fixture, I used a Ziploc bag and cut a small hole in one corner in order to pipe the frosting directly onto the center of one cookie. The bag was too small. My piping approach was too cavalier. Ten minutes later I had several stacks of beautiful Oreos, but I also had a kitchen covered in buttercream. If you end up with frosting on the counter, the floor, your pants, and your head, and you’re not five years old, you know you’re doing something wrong. 
 The final product was rich and satisfying. Unlike the packaged kind, you can definitely only eat one. The cookies were firm enough to stand up to the cream, but not crumbly or brittle. They packed well and stayed soft for several days. The success of this project got me thinking about all the other packaged cookies that could be recreated. Nutter Butters may be next on the list.
For the chocolate wafers:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar [see recipe note]
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg
For the filling:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat over to 375. Mix dry ingredients together in a food processor.
Add the butter and egg until formed into dough.
Place batter in on cookie sheet in rounded balls, then flatten out slightly with palm. Cook for 9 minutes.
For frosting beat butter, shortening, and vanilla until smooth. Add sugar slowly.
Once cookies are cool, pipe frosting into center of one cookie and sandwich with a second cookie.