I was wrong about you. Sorry for picking you out of muffins and pancakes all these years. Good thing Ford’s Filling Station makes such amazing French toast (brioche with stewed blueberries and creme fraiche; closer to me than the celebrated TJ’s) or I never would have come to appreciate you. So glad you now appear regularly at the breakfast table, along with the coffee. As a friend who also works with children once described the magic liquid, “it just makes it easier to smile.” Or refrain from yelling obscenities while smacking your head against the wall, even if he started it.

It’s a Good Thing my mom bought me a subscription to my girl Martha’s mag, as she had just the thing for incorporating blueberries into a new what-are-we-having-for-breakfast-other-than-eggs-again dish. Quinoa, last year’s darling of the health food circles, makes a sweet comeback here disguised as a hot cereal, and it actually works. I’m not encouraging you to eat it because it’s good for you; eat it because it’s tasty.

Breakfast Quinoa
Adapted from Martha Stewart in her February 2010 issue

Makes 2 cups

2 C milk or soy milk
1 C quinoa
3 T brown sugar
¼ t cinnamon
1 C blueberries

-Bring milk to a boil in a small saucepan.
-Add quinoa and reduce to low heat. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes.
-Stir in brown sugar and cinnamon. Cover and cook for 8 minutes.
-Stir in blueberries and cook for about 30 seconds.
-Eat, adding additional milk, sugar, cinnamon, or blueberries to your preference.


New Digs

Home sweet home. Welcome, readers, to our new place. I can now say that I live in a “cottage bungalow” instead of an apartment! The units in our small complex were built in the 1920s to house the movie stars while they filmed on the MGM studio lot. Glam. Here’s the front. For some reason, we seem to have the jungle-encroaching style unit, as the others have much more orderly landscaping. Nothing a little cutting back won’t fix. Plus, it adds to the bungalow feel.

Quaint charm also means older appliances, some of which occasionally grumble and hum to themselves (like Old Man Fridge) and others whose prudish manners keep them from revealing how hot they are or wearing see-through tops so we can see inside (the oven). Don’t EVEN get me started on the plumbing. Any discussion would be inappropriate for a blog about food.

The oven needed a bit of encouraging from the repair guy before she’d start up, so Friday night was the first night of actual cooking. It was cause for a little bubbly (berry lemonade).

We also enjoyed some (cheap, thanks to the nearby Trader Joe’s!) halibut with a beurre blanc and Ina’s sauteed carrots (recipe from her fabulous Barefoot Contessa Family Style, sweet and earthy carrots from Trader Joe’s…did I mention we live near a Trader Joe’s?!).

These gougeres were not my best batch (no fault of Molly Wizenburg’s solid recipe from Bon Appetit, as archived on Epicurious) but they did pair well with the couch, looking dashing as ever in its new home.

And you can’t beat the taste of those intensely rich dark chocolate wooden floors…I mean cookies from Smitten Kitchen.

Got to go. Unspeakable things are burbling up inside my bathtub. And I think it’s coming from the neighbors. But I shall leave you with a more positive image:

Golden Globes

The Golden Globes was cause for celebration around here, partially because of the movies it honored, but mostly because it was an excuse to cook up a last grandiose meal in our kitchen before we move. And for this event, butter was definitely the guest of honor. Not surprising, considering the major dishes included pastries and a Julia Child recipe.

The two mostly highly-anticipated items (and, naturally, the most time-consuming) were the croissants and the Beouf Bourguignon. My inner child’s chipmunk cheeks puffed out in joy at the thought of making the “butter square” involved in the croissants: 24 (!!!) tablespoons of butter smeared together with a bit of flour and shaped into a large square to be worked into the dough.

When the masses inspired by Julie & Julia rushed to the grocery store after the movie to buy ingredients for beouf bourguignon, they ran into The Bacon Problem: Julia’s recipe calls for slab bacon with the rind still on. The rind adds flavor to the sauce, while the rest of the bacon is cut into lardons and eaten along with the beef. Unfortunately, most bacon comes to the store or even butcher shop pre-sliced with the rind removed. Unless you are persistent enough to call up local merchants until you find what may be the last butcher in town keeping the tradition alive at the Fairfax Farmer’s Market. Problem is, there are many butchers in that market, only one of which holds the prized slab bacon, and in limited amounts. At the first stall we found, we heard the man ahead of us in line ask “…carry bacon with the rind still on? I need it for a recipe…” We paused just long enough to see the butcher shake his head, then dashed through the market to find the right stall. I felt bad for leaving a fellow slab hunter behind, but we didn’t know if there would be enough pig to go around once we found the right butcher. So now, bacon secured, I apologize, Bacon Guy in the Green Shirt. Wherever you are, I hope you’ve found your rind.

And now the gallery of the 2010 Second Annual Golden Globes Dinner:

Up In The Air
Honey Roast Peanut Airplane Snacks
“Our business expense allots forty dollars each for dinner. I plan on grabbing as many miles as I can.”

The Hurt Locker
Too Many Cereal Options
“War is a drug.”

Fellini Zucchini
“I feel my body chill/ Gives me a special thrill/Each time I see that Guido Neo-Realism.”

Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” By Sapphire
Lenny Kravitz’s Fruit Cup
“I like McDonald’s.”

(500) Days of Summer
IKEA Meatballs
“Darling, I don’t know how to tell you this, but there’s a Chinese family in our bathroom.”
adapted from the “Swedish Meatball” recipe from the Cookie October 2008 issue, as archived by Epicurious

Julie & Julia
Boeuf Bourguignon
“Oh, YUM!”
adapted from Julia Child’s recipe as published by Knopf

“I see you.”
adapted from David Lebovitz’s Pineapple Granita from The Perfect Scoop

It’s Complicated
Chocolate Croissants
“It’s crazy how good this is. And I’m not even stoned anymore!”
adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated croissant recipe

Inglourious Basterds
Apple Strudel With Cream
“Attendez la cremè.”
adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated “Easy Apple Strudel” recipe

The Hangover
Bloody Mary
“What happened last night?!”


Happy Hanukah! The ihatecupcakes test kitchen put something special together; click HERE for a holiday surprise.

“Celebrating Hanukah” for the heathens in my family always meant an excuse for Krispy Kreme.  But now, I have a good reason to take the holiday a little more seriously.  (They don’t have “Hot Donuts Now” anymore.)  The real deal in oil-centric desserts are the Israeli jelly donuts sufganiot.  Wanting to test several versions to give a definite recipe, we made a lot of donuts.

The two recipes we tried produced very different results:  the first, a scrappy and cinnamon-flavored dough with an overnight rise in the refrigerator, involved frying the donuts with the jam already inside; the second, including lemon zest and brandy and kneaded in the food processor to the consistency of pizza dough, had the donuts injected with jam post-fry.

Here are the first, pre-filled sufganiot.  Though tasty, they had gummy, uncooked centers and looked a bit squat.

The second batch puffed up impressively during the frying, with some so buoyant after cooking the first side that they wouldn’t stay flipped over, but had to be held down by force!  These had airy, fully-cooked centers…

…and were easily bottle-fed.

adapted from Aviva Goldman’s The Kosher Cookbook, translated from the Hebrew (Thanks, Niva and Avry!)
1 3/4 C warm milk
1 packet active dry yeast
2 t sugar, divided
4 C all-purpose flour
3 T butter, softened
1 t table salt
1 t vanilla
1 t lemon zest, tightly packed
1 T brandy
vegetable oil for frying
seedless raspberry jam
powdered sugar

Makes 2 dozen

1. Heat milk to 100 degrees F. Add ½ teaspoon of sugar and yeast. Let it rise for about 15 minutes.
2. Fit a food processor bowl with plastic blade. Add flour, butter, salt, remaining sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and brandy.
3. Blend until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 20 seconds.
4. Put the dough in a large bowl, cover with a warm damp towel and let rise for an hour in a warm place.
5. Roll the dough to ½ inch thick.
6. Cut circles with biscuit cutter or small glass, gathering and re-rolling scraps.
7. Place the dough circles on a floured surface, cover with warm damp towel and let rise another hour.
8. Heat 2 inches of oil in a large pot. Fry each side until brown, about 30 seconds each.
9. Let cool and inject with raspberry jam.
10. Sift powdered sugar over sufganiot.

Like any donut these are best eaten the day of, ideally when still warm, but a few seconds in the microwave can help revive them a bit.

Sweet Dreams

A spicer chocolate chip cookie with cinnamon and ginger, a Sweet Dream Cookie gets extra sweetness from rolling in powdered sugar before baking. This recipe comes from my aunt Janie who got it from her retired Swiss neighbor. Janie told me that at one point the recipe was lost in a move, but luckily she remembered giving my mom the recipe years before. Now it’ll be online so none of us have to worry.

These were the chocolate chip cookies of my childhood, and it was usually my job to roll them in the powdered sugar. When I was a freshman in college, my mom sent me a “care package” containing a Ziplock bag of these cookies. She tucked in a sweet little note that ended with “Sorry I fucked these up a little bit.” My roommate, Anna, may have been confused by the language but was very excited about the result. She claimed to prefer them that way, a little thinner and crispier than usual.

Well, I guess you’d be happy, Anna. The batch I just made turned out to be more on the crispy side than I wanted. I think this happened because I didn’t let the dough chill long enough. Or because I flattened the balls a bit after their sugar roll. Or, as I suspect, my oven lies to me about its hotness. It’s a modest oven.

Even though this may not be my dream batch, the cinnamon in them makes the apartment smell very Christmas-y. And they still look good in the cookie jar.  (Thanks Mr. + Mrs. Phillips <3)

adapted from Aunt Janie’s recipe, as given to her by neighbor Trudy Pedersen (and, as it turns out, Bon Appetit 1986.  See note at bottom)

1/2 lb (2 sticks) butter
1 1/2 C brown sugar
1 egg
2 C flour
1 t soda
1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t ginger
1 t vanilla
12 oz (package) chocolate chips
powdered sugar for rolling

-Preheat oven to 375
-Cream together first 3 ingredients
-Add dry ingredients and vanilla
-Fold in chocolate chips
-Let chill until dough is firm (apparently longer than half an hour)
-Shape into balls
-Roll in powdered sugar
-Bake 8-10 minutes (8 for normal, 10+ for fucked up/delicious)
-Sweet dreams! *

*Note: Sweet Dream Cookies should not be eaten right before bed, as high amounts of sugar and deliciousness may cause restlessness. Eating Sweet Dream Cookies does not guarantee sweet dreams.  If bad dream occurs, eat a Sweet Dream Cookie and consult your milk carton.

Note for reals:  Wordpress adds additional links to the bottom of the page and recommended a fellow blog that posted about “Sweet Dreams” around this time last year.  Check it out here.

How to Become a Stock-er

Attention, readers:  You are in for a treat this post as a special guest blogger shares his stock tips…

Blogs, huh? So THIS is the new revolution?!  This is no different from those Angelfire pages we all had during the Clinton years. What a gyp. Still, I’m trying to get better at coping with disappointment, so don’t mind me if I to try to write this post with imaginary knobs and wheels like Tom Cruise in Minority Report (Did you know that Apple took many of the ideas for the iPhone’s multi-touch interface from Minority Report? Perhaps we’re not so far off after all…)

What? Oh, right. Pertinence. Well then, if I’m substituting today, then I’ll be throwing out the teacher’s normal curriculum of, God, I dunno…pink unicorn Anthropologie macaroon pies. Let’s get to basics. Like way back fundamentals basics.

Professional chefs, French folks, and lucky memoirists all refer to stock as the fond de cuisine (which can be roughly translated on the internet).  All soups, and stews, many sauces, gravies, risottos, potato gratins, paellas, et al use stock as the base. There are as many kinds of stocks as there are animals whose fat can be boiled out of their bones and flavorized. (Ok, ok, you don’t need animal fats exclusively. But I have a hard time differentiating vegetable stock from the green water that’s left over from steaming asparagus.  All those wanting to see a veggie-broth post can grab themselves a Not Dog, sit down and chill.)

If you’re like me—and…cherish the thought—when you see chicken stock in a recipe your mind goes to those Swanson’s cans.  But comparing a store bought stock to the real Mccoy is like Wonderbread to freshly baked artisan loaf or Mission to Border Grill’s tortillas, or Octomom to Angelina Jolie. No matter how hard it tries, we’re just not in the same league. Homemade stock usually has a higher fat content and fresher herbs and spices, giving it a deeper, richer flavor.

Above all else, though, what I love about homemade stock is that it’s made from garbage. Unless you’re Ina Garten who curiously uses dozens of freshly slaughtered French game hens in her recipe, this is a dish that should use only scrap ingredients. Never throw away any chicken bones from another dish, or the meat for that matter, or especially the leftover carcass from one of those supermarket rotisseries.  Keep them in a bag in the freezer and when you’ve got enough for a batch (or your roommates become alarmed by your enthusiastic carcass hoarding) it’s time.

Same goes for the herb/veggie section. Certain things like bay leaves, celery, and thyme are essential in my opinion, but the rest are a grab bag.  This recipe is a great use for garlic that has begun regenerating itself on your counter; also wilted celery, graying rosemary, and forgotten carrots.

On the subject of carrots, this is a bit touchy for me. Carrots, or “devil fingers” as I like to call them, are a personal bane of mine. Their innate sweetness (and evilness) can give a stock a miserable aftertaste. I prefer the bare minimum approach— usually one per stock. I know, I know, that’s ridiculous, but I can’t help it, I’m…racist.

However, I did discover on a recent farmer’s market trip the existence of a mysterious white carrot. According to the bearded root vegetable expert on-hand, carrots are originally white in their native homeland of Afghanistan.  It was later when they were brought to The Netherlands that they were made orange so as to “match their queen.” I have no idea how much of the story is true.  Either way, these carrots (Pictured here. They are not parsnips) are less sweet but still have that earthy flavor. So, there you go, I guess I’m not racist, I just think white carrots are superior.

Final, last note: Err on the side of less water in making the stock.  Logic goes, less water means less diluted means more concentration of favors.  An especially good idea if you’re freezing the stock into cubes to use later as a flavor enhancer.

Chicken Stock Adapted from Alton Brown, Good Eats

4 pounds chicken carcasses, including necks and back
1 large onion, quartered
1 carrot, peeled (or three white carrots!)
4 ribs celery, cut in 1/2
1 leek, white part only, cut in 1/2 lengthwise
10 sprigs fresh thyme
10 sprigs fresh parsley with stems
1-2 sprigs rosemary
1 bay leaves
8 to 10 peppercorn
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
2 gallons cold water

Place chicken, vegetables, and herbs and spices in 12-quart stockpot. Set opened steamer basket directly on ingredients in pot and pour over water. Cook on high heat until you begin to see bubbles break through the surface of the liquid. Turn heat down to medium low so that stock maintains low, gentle simmer. Skim the scum from the stock with a spoon or fine mesh strainer every 10 to 15 minutes for the first hour of cooking and twice each hour for the next 2 hours. Add hot water as needed to keep bones and vegetables submerged. Simmer uncovered for 6 to 8 hours.

Strain stock through a fine mesh strainer into another large stockpot or heatproof container discarding the solids. Cool immediately in large cooler of ice or a sink full of ice water to below 40 degrees. Place in refrigerator overnight. Remove solidified fat from surface of liquid and store in container with lid in refrigerator for 2 to 3 days or in freezer for up to 3 months.

So that’s it, blog out or whatever you people are supposed to say at this point.  This was surprisingly painless, even dare I think it, fun?  Your real teacher will be back next time, of course.  But maybe, some other time in the future, if there aren’t too many complaints I might make another rainy day appearance. Oh, and all photo credits go to your regularly scheduled blogger with a contribution by local pirate Travis. They’re the talent here.

And What Are You Supposed to Be? (or I Get Tired of My Title Format.)

For me, Halloween wasn’t about the candy. It was about the pie. Not just any pie. THE pie.

If you’re part of my family (and if you’re reading this blog, there’s a 92% chance you are) you know what I’m talking about. We Garrissere/Threlfalls are fortunate to know the wonderful Hilda Cabral, independent of her apple pies. A friend of my grandmother’s since they were young, Hilda has always been one of the family. Her apple pies have graced many a Thanksgiving table, but my immediate family always had a taste the month before.

On Halloween, as the night wore on, we’d break away from the other families, saying we needed to be getting back home. But we actually had one more stop. Hilda would answer the door, let us in, we’d chat. Then, “I’m so sorry, but I didn’t have time to make a pie this year” And then a flurry of “Oh, Hilda, of course we don’t expect you…” But she’d be walking back from the kitchen, pie in hand, with delighted smile. She tricked us every time.

One weekend in fall, my dad decided he was getting that recipe. He talked to Hilda and he and I went over for a pie tutorial. I credit this particular afternoon to my love for cooking shows. We stood there in her kitchen with its cage of cheeping canaries and watched the master at work. My dad made the perfect cooking show host, jovially teasing Hilda as she divulged her secrets and I recorded them on a piece of binder paper in my careful child’s cursive: “Now, Hilda, that’s more than two teaspoons; Rosie be sure to put ‘two heaping teaspoons.'” I wish I had that unforgettable afternoon on tape, but at least I can taste the pie and recall it.

direct from the source

10 peeled and sliced Golden Delicious apples
1 C sugar
2 heaping T tapioca
1 T flour
3 T butter
sprinkles of cinnamon and nutmeg

-Stir ingredients and let stand

1 3/4 C flour
3/4 C Crisco
pinches of salt and sugar
5 T cold water

-Mash dry ingredients with potato masher for 5 minutes
-Mix in water
-Roll out 2 crusts, put one in 9″ pie pan, add filling and the top crust

coat with
1 egg yoke [sic]
1 t milk

-Bake @ 350 for 1 hour

Here is what I changed:
-Fewer, but superior, Golden Delicious: I found a great produce market en route to our local Home Depot. (I’d link to it, but Marina Farms doesn’t have a website. I’ll just have to take you there in person.) With an impressive selection of seasonal squash, roots, and pears, it was the apples that did it for me. I’m used to finding green-tinted, petite GDs at the grocery store. Not at Marina Farms where the Goldens are true to their names. And they’re HUGE: the beauty in the photo measures 10″ in circumference.
-Pre-cooking the filling: Learned this trick from Cooks’ apple-cranberry pie recipe. I made the filling and then microwaved for about 6 minutes to allow the apples to soften. This prevents the disappointment of a beautiful pie…with a crunchy filling.
-Less sugar: Pies, especially when made with high-quality fruit, can taste too sweet to me. To let the natural sweetness of the apples come through, I cut the sugar to about half a cup.
-Tapioca: Just a note NOT to change this. Tapioca works as a thickening agent and adds the distinctive flavor that our family recognizes in Hilda’s pie. But be sure to use the powdered kind, not the balls. I used the stuff in a small box labeled “Cook & Serve Pudding and Pie Filling.”
-On nutmeg: My mom has an inexplicable aversion to nutmeg. It’s not just a taste preference; it’s hatred…perhaps trauma. Try reading her an ingredient list and watch her recoil when you say the “n” word. This pie is a safe place, Mom. Show me on the recipe card where the nutmeg touched you.
-Crisco, crisco: I just can’t anymore. I know it’s not evil, and can even be non-transfat now. But I gotta go with butter.
-Do the mash?: I don’t. Though in Hilda’s defense, I recall she had a metal masher that cut the Crisco cleanly, whereas my plastic one smooshes. I just use my pastry cutter or my food processor, and only for as long as it takes to make the butter pea-sized.

Trick or Treat!

I Curse Over Spoiled Milk.

If you make the Indian food from this post, great.  But the take-home lesson here is to explore the restaurant supply stores and ethnic food shops in your area.  For me, anyway, it’s like going to a toy store and then on a scavenger hunt.  What inspired this post was a visit to Surfas, a restaurant supply store near me in Culver City which offers free cooking demonstrations.  That weekend, Chef Neelam Batra prepared and gave us recipes for some delicious vegetarian dishes, which sent me on a quest to find the spices she used.  In the following recipes, there are only two spice mixes that you might not find in a regular grocery store:  chaat masala and chickpea (or chana) masala.  The ones I found were packaged in small boxes.  I’m going back for all my spices; they’re so much cheaper!

This chickpea salad would make great potluck food if asked to bring a hearty salad.  It was one of those recipes that seems overwhelming if you don’t do prep work. (I actually love chopping and combining things into my mini, glass Target bowls. Then I like to leave the room, come back, and pretend Martha’s kitchen slaves have prepped everything for me!) So I’ll copy out the ingredients you’ll need and provide you with the steps I took to follow the original recipe:

from Chef Neelam Batra as demonstrated at Surfas, Culver City

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 large tomato
1 small seedless cucumber
4 scallions, white parts only
1 C cilantro
1 whole serrano pepper
1 t garlic
1 T fresh ginger
3 15 oz cans chickpeas
2 1/2 t chaat masala
2 T ground coriander
1 T chickpea masala
3 T peanut oil
1/2 C water

1. Finely chop: tomato, cucumber, scallions, cilantro, serrano pepper
2. Use a microplane zester to grate: 1 t garlic and 1 T ginger
3. Rinse and drain chickpeas in a colander

Organize into separate bowls
1. tomato, cucumber, scallions, 1/4 C of cilantro, 1 t chaat masala
2. garlic, ginger, serrano pepper
3. coriander, chickpea masala, 1 1/2 t chaat masala

1. Heat 3 T peanut oil in large skillet on medium-high. Add #2 bowl, stir for 1 minute.  Add #3.
2. Add chickpeas and water and cook, stirring occasionally, until chickpeas are tender and the juices evaporate, 5 minutes. Mix in remaining 3/4 C cilantro.
3. Transfer to serving platter. Mix in tomato bowl contents. Serve at room temp or cold.

Next up, homemade paneer cheese.  This was remarkable to watch.  I stood over the stove, patiently stirring for a long time before anything happened.  I wasn’t ready for the milk to boil suddenly, in a billowing, unstoppable dome, threatening to rise up over the pot and spill all over my oven range…and me!

“We’re fucked!  We’re fucked!” I yelled, stabbing ineffectively at the menacing foam.

He walked over, calmly lifted the pot, said, “Now turn off the heat.”

Oh.  Right.

After that non-disaster, I regained the calm to fully enjoy the next part. Before my eyes, the milk separated into curds and whey.

I’d recommend making this recipe just for the wonderment of seeing this process. But, hey, I am science lab deprived, so maybe it won’t impress you as much.

from Chef Neelam Batra as demonstrated at Surfas, Culver City

1/2 gallon milk (I used 2 %)
2 C plain yogurt (I bought mine at the Indian grocery store and looove it; very thick and tangy)
Cheesecloth (Surprisingly, this was readily available at my local grocery store)

-Place the milk in a large heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring gently, over high heat. Just before the milk boils and the bubbles spill over, mix in the yogurt and continue to stir lightly until the milk curdles and separates into curds and whey, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

-Drape the cheesecloth over a large pan and pour the curdled milk over it, draining the whey through the cloth and catching the curds in the cloth. Set pan with whey aside.

-With the curds inside it, pick up the cloth and tie it to the kitchen faucet to drain 3 to 5 minutes.

-Remove from the faucet and gently twist the cloth around the curds, then place the cloth between two large plates and balance the pan with whey on top. (Work close to the sink, or you’ll have a mess to clean up.)

-Remove the pan from the curds (which by now should have compressed into a chunk), cut into cubes.

-To cook paneer to eat by itself or in another recipe, fry in vegetable oil, stirring carefully to keep paneer pieces from breaking.  I made palak paneer from one of my favorite youtube video gems I stumbled upon once in search for naan.  Turns out, Manjula is quite commercial now.  Please check out some of her informative and charming videos.


I Fall For It.

It’s fall!  And Los Angeles is doing an impressive job playing at it; yesterday I wore close toed shoes.  Like oh my god.  Hey, good enough excuse for me to start in on the spices and root vegetables and squashes.  With soup in mind, I opened up Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Family Style (Side note: Did you know it’s “Eye-nuh” not “Eee-nuh”?  Please explain.) and found “Roasted Vegetable Soup,” which boils down to (see what I did there?) oven roasting chunks of carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and parsnips in olive oil until tender, pureeing with chicken stock, and heating.

Oh yeah, I instantly caught a cold when the “weather” changed.  I may have also compromised the immune system by staying up until 3 beating a certain computer game.  (It WILL become your world.)  So the soup definitely helped.

with a bit of fried sage

Ina’s recipe includes brioche croutons, but no recipe for brioche.  She suggests instead to use “that leftover bread in the freezer.”  This is, in fact, the second time she references her frozen supply; the French toast incorporates “leftover challah from the freezer.”  What would Ina think if she opened my egg bread-less freezer?  If you find yourself equally unprepared, I suggest Cooks Illustrated online’s “Quick Brioche.”  Let me know if you need the recipe, and I will first scold you for not being a member and then whore out my password.

I’m usually not a big fan of this season, but this year I’m determined to root for it and spice it up (had to) with autumnal cookery.  And then go outside and tan by the pool.

I Smooth It Over.

The moment in The Hours when Laura agonizes over her cake’s imperfections speaks to me. I too can set expectations on a dessert and feel a great let down if all goes wrong. Just the other day a simple apple pie ended in me gouging out holes in the beautifully-goldened crust to scoop out ladlefuls of uncooked apples, slopping them into Tupperware for a future use of some sort, and inevitably drowning them in the disposal days later. But it’s ok; this one is a happy story. After a series of baking fails, I treated myself to a new kitchen toy I’ve had my eye on: an offset spatula. O man it’s worth it. It was such a treat to decorate this cake and watch how smoothly the spatula laid on the frosting.

Sometimes, when you feel like you’re not making great leaps and bounds at anything important, it’s so satisfying to have a product you can look at with pride. And then eat.

Here are the frostings I used: the peanut butter one for filling the layers and the chocolate for the outside. The cake itself was also from Smitten Kitchen. I used three layers and froze the fourth. Because I’m health-conscious.

adapted from Bon Appetit’s Milk Chocolate-Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookie filling, Feb 2006

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 C creamy peanut butter
4 T powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 T whipping cream
3 T milk

Note: I doubled the original recipe, but can’t for the life of me remember adding 12 T of cream/milk (2 times the suggested 6 T of cream), so I’m pretty sure that in my inattention I thickened the frosting and made it more ganache-like. Oh darn.

-Add chocolate, peanut butter, powdered sugar, and salt in medium bowl. Heat cream and milk to boil and pour over mixture. Mix until smooth. Cool until ready to frost.

adapted from a Sky High recipe via Smitten Kitchen

makes 2 1/2 cups; this was enough to frost the outside of a three layer cake

3 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 C powdered sugar
1-and-a-half sticks salted butter, room temperature
3 T milk
1/2 T vanilla extract

Note: The original recipe calls for unsalted butter, which is what I used, but when I made it this way I wanted the frosting to be a little more salty. But I’m a salt and chocolate person, so it’s up to you.

-Process all ingredients in the food processor until smooth.

It was surely someone‘s  birthday.