Monday, February 28, 2011

Columbia City Bakery

I often wish that I lived next to, or above, a place as wonderful as the Columbia City Bakery. I would get to eat their phenomenal creations everyday and I would never have a good excuse to miss the special weekend pecan sticky buns because I woke up to late. I could just roll our of bed, wander next door and grab whatever my heart desired. I could enjoy it with a large cup of coffee, near a window, watching the morning develop into a bustling, vibrant day. There are so many beautiful things filling the counters and shelves in the bakery that I could try something new everyday and not be done for weeks.
Sturdy loaves of Ciabatta, Rye and Walnut Ficelle stand next to the tall seeded baguettes. Croissants, scones, muffins, coffee cake, real cakes, cookies, quiches, sandwiches, pretzel and more. The Bostok is a think slice of brioche scented with orange flavor water and topped with sliced almonds. Bearclaws come true to form, the pistachio croissant come twirled up like a snail. The puffy, cheese gougeres can be purchased alone, or as a veggie sandwich filled with salad greens, seasonal vegetables and stone ground mustard. So much to eat, it is a shame there are not more than three meals in a day.
Columbia City Bakery on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Brown Rice Pudding

I love a big, steaming bowl of rice pudding. Warm, filling, heavily scented with cinnamon with a strong hint of vanilla. Roommates and I have invented many a rice pudding late night, when hunger strikes and we want a warm dessert. There is always a milk or alternative milk product in our fridge. Coconut milk, soy milk, almond milk or cows milk all make a great rice pudding. I found this recipe in the classic Moosewood Cookbook, late one night this week. I love this version, it is very simple but delicious and easily adaptable to your personal rice pudding preferences. I discovered how adding a little bit more salt than I usually would, can really do wonders. This rice pudding reminds me of the rice pudding I ate from plastic cups, purchased from street vendors in the moonlit streets of Peru. These delicious cups of comfort have followed me home and I couldn't be happier.
Brown Rice Pudding adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook

1 cup short-grain brown rice*
3 to 3 1/2 cups milk (or alternative milk product)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 to 5 tablespoons brown sugar, honey or maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
a dash of nutmeg
a handful of raisins (optional)

1. Rinse the rise in a strainer. Drain well and then place in a saucepan with 3 cups of milk. Bring the milk to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to the lowest possible setting. Simmer until the rice is very tender. (This could take up to 1 1/2 hours.)
2. An hour into the cooking, stir in the salt, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and raisins if necessary. (Start with 3 tablespoons of sugar, this dish is naturally sweet and it is very easy to add to much sugar.)
3. Half an hour after adding the additional ingredients start checking the rice to see if it is tender, add more milk as necessary.
4. When rice is tender serve warm, at room temperature or cold. Top with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg.

*If in a hurry, use white rice. It cooks much faster.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Polenta Pie with Cheese and Tomato Sauce

There are weeks in life that are meant for quick cooking. This week is one of those weeks for me and when I am busy and stressed out being hungry is the worst. I get super cranky and snappy, it is not a very charming quality. As this feeling started brewing this evening I made a super quick dinner. This polenta pie takes only 10 minutes... I repeat 10 minutes(!!!) of prep time. Granted it does take another 20 minutes in the oven after that, but that is the perfect amount of time to take care of the dishes that are piling up, or organize my thoughts, or relax with the Anthony Bourdain. No Reservations marathon that is presently on TV. But back to the food, this is a surprisingly impressive dish. It is made with simple ingredients but smells phenomenal, has layers of bright colors and is downright comforting. I can imagine in the future with some more time available, adding layers of caramelized onions, sauteed zucchini or a thin layer of spinach. But for now, I will let this hearty meal rejuvenate my spirits and get back to work.
Polenta Pie with Cheese and Tomato Sauce adapted from Gourmet Magazine

Serves 4 to 6
Only 10 minutes of active prep! 30 minutes altogether.

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil or olive oil nonstick spray
1 (16 to 18oz) ready-made plain polenta roll (the plastic wrapped kind)
1 1/2 cup tomato sauce (homemade or your favorite chunky sauce from a jar)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 cup of shredded mozzarella (1/4lb)
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. Preheat the oven to 450F degrees. Oil a 9-inch pie pan or a 4 cup gratin dish with 1 teaspoon oil or olive oil nonstick spray.
2. Cut the polenta roll crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices and line the pie pan with half of the slices, evenly layering them to cover as much of the bottom of the pan as possible.
3. Stir the basil into the tomato sauce and spread over the polenta slices. Then sprinkle half of the mozzarella cheese onto the sauce.
4. Layer the remaining polenta slices evenly over the sauce and cheese. Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella and the Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top of the pie.
5. Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let pie stand for 5 minutes to firm up and cool. Serve with extra warmed tomato sauce if desired.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Theo Chocolate Factory Tour

I was introduced to Theo Chocolate over a year ago by a roommate of a friend, a real charmer with refined chocolate tastes and a hefty snack budget funded by his parent's credit card. He was infatuated with Theo and I have since adapted a similar infatuation. Theo is the only USDA certified organic and fair-trade certified chocolate company from the United States and they do all of their own chocolate processing onsite in Seattle. All of these phenomenal attributes are what contribute to Theo chocolate being the best, and more expensive than your standard sugar laden "chocolate" bar at the check out stand. There is almost always a Theo bar stashed away in my room for chocolate emergencies and I pick up every new flavor as soon as I see it on the shelves.
Theo is also only one of two chocolate factories in the United States that give tours to the public, these $6 tours are well worth it. I am very tempted to spoil every minute of the tour by telling you about every fabulous stop in detail, but that would almost ruin it. Especially because in the factory you learn about chocolate while its intoxicating smell wafts around you. I am willing to bet where you are does not smell that good. However I will tell you that our tour guide was phenomenal. There is a brief, very informative and entertaining educational segment as well as the tour of factory and my favorite... samples.
Theo is truly a Seattle treasure.I could watch the confectioners work for ever and taste the subtle nuances between the single origin bars until the bar me from the sample tables. This is some of the best chocolate I have ever had and by far the best in terms of quality of product. Theo strives to ensure that their production does nothing but better the lives of the people on all ends of the supply chain, an admirable goal that we can all toast a bar of chocolate to. If I were your I would toast the bread and chocolate bar, the dark chocolate orange or the new dark chocolate coconut.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Day

As Valentine's Day approached, so does the necessity to make absurdly chocolaty desserts and cut them out in the shape of hearts. So if you need some last minute treats for someone special or just feel like eating a lot of chocolate try some refreshing orange shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate, chocolate yogurt mini-cakes or super decadent brownies. It is completely optional to make any of these treats into heart shapes, but as we just discussed in my kitchen, (where some heart shaped breakfast biscuits just appeared), everything tastes better in the shape of a heart. You can tell they were made with love.

Chocolate Dipped Orange Shortbread Hearts adapted from Epicurious
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest (zest from about 2 small orange)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup of chocolate chips, melted (either in a double boiler, or slowly in the microwave)

1. Preheat the oven to 375F degrees.
2. Blend together the butter, sugar, zest and salt in a bowl with a fork. Add the flour to the butter mixture and lend with a fork until the mixture forms a soft dough, a large rubber spatula can also be helpful here. Form the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap.
3. Chill the dough for at least an hour.
4. Place the dough on a clean flat surface and roll out to a uniform thickness, about 1/4 inch. Use a heart shaped cookie cutter to cut the dough into 12 hearts, gathering and re-rolling the extra dough as needed. (Alternatively, you can cut the dough into 12 squares, then slice diagonally into 24 triangles.)
5. Bake the shortbread in the middle of the oven until the edges are golden but center is pale, 7-9 minutes.
6. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. Once the cookies are cool, dip one edge in the melted chocolate chips. Place cookies on parchment paper and allow the chocolate to cool and harden.

Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes adapted from David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life In Paris

Makes 12 individual cakes

7 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1/2 vegetable oil
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 almond extract
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
2. Put the chocolate and 1/4 cup of oil in a microwaveable bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds and stir, continue to microwave at 15 second intervals until the chocolate is melted.
3. In a large mixing bowl, mix the remaining 1/4 cup oil with the yogurt, sugar, eggs and vanilla and almond extracts.
4. In another large bowl whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt.
5. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir lightly at few times, then add the chocolate, and stir until smooth.
6. Divide the batter among the muffins tins, about 1/4 of a cup of batter per muffin cup. Bake for 25 minutes of until they feel barely set in the middle.
7. Cool before serving. Delicious with coffee, milk or whipped cream.

Olive Oil Brownies adapted from The New York Times

3/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup unsweetened chocolate chips or finely chopped
1/2 cup boiling water
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups of sugar
1 3/4 cups of flour
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat the oven 350F degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch pan.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together with cocoa powder, 1/2 cup of boiling water and unsweetened chocolate.
3. Whisk in the olive oil. Add the eggs, yolks and vanilla, and continue to whisk until combined. Add the sugar, whisking until fully incorporating. Using a spatula, fold in the flour and salt until just combined. Fold in the bittersweet chocolate pieces.
4. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula.
5. Bake for 30 minutes. (These brownies solidify as they cool, so inserting a toothpick to check for doneness will not work; it does not come out clean.
6. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before cutting.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why French Women Don't Get Fat

I had spectacularly high hopes for this book and I have to say I was a touch let down. French Women Don't Get Fat is Mireille Guilian's manifesto about the secrets of eating for pleasure. She examines through her own experiences the differences between American and French diets and attempts to understand why French women can have fabulous, indulgent diets and remain thin, while American women are constantly worrying about what they are eat and the end up weighing more. The book is not supposed to read like a diet book, but her first suggestion is to go on a fast diet, eating nothing but leek soup. That is a preposterous idea that I could never commit myself to, nor endorse for anyone else. So instead of suggesting that you read this book in its entirety, I will highlight all of the advice that Guiliano provides that I think we could try to emulate for healthy and happier lives

1. Drink more water.
2. Drink wine, in moderation.
3. Eat slower and really enjoy your food.
4. Eat more plain, unsweetened yogurt.
5. Eat a regular times.
6. Diversify your diet! Learn how to cook , use spices, a variety of vegetable and new ingredients on a regular basis.
6. Eat breakfast.
7. Walk more. Take the stairs.
8. Eat real chocolate with more cocoa than sugar.
9. Don't eat until you are full but until you are satisfied.
10. Avoid fat-free and no sugar substitute foods. Just eat the real thing in moderation.
11. Sleep more.
12. Enjoy your food!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tiny Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

If the chocolate chip cookie is the granddaddy of all cookies, these are his hipster, whole-grain, sparkle-covered grandchildren. These tiny cookies pack some serious flavor and confirm my belief that tiny cookies are infinitely better than huge cookies. I passed a huge jar of these around during a class one day and we got to circulate the jar at least four times. The cookie fun and sugar high were sustained during the entire two hours of group discussion.
This recipe could of course be adapted to larger cookies but these are so fun and you get to cover entire counters with hundreds of tiny cookies. My kitchen hasn't been quite this much of a production zone in a long time. But it was well worth the sheet after sheet of cookies I baked for containers full of these bite-sized snacks.
Tiny Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies adapted from 101 Cookbooks

makes about 12 dozen tiny, bite-sized cookies

5 ounces of good-quality semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4-1/2 cup large-grain sugar (turbinado or sugar in the raw)

1. Preheat your oven to 350F degrees. Place the racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Finely chop the chocolate into thin shavings.
3. In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, oats and the chocolate shavings.
4. Beat the butter with a mixer or by hand until fluffy. Beat in the sugar until it is also light and fluffy. Scraping the bowl as you go, beat in the molasses, eggs, and vanilla.
5. Add the flour mix and stir by hand until the ingredients form a dough.
6. Scoop the dough into exact, level teaspoons. Tear the teaspoon sized balls into two, roll those pieces into balls and then roll the balls in the large-grain sugar. Place the cookies two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Gently flatten each cookie into a thin, round patty.
7. Bake the cookies for 7 minutes or until the cookies are golden and fragrant. Remove them from the oven, and cool on a wire rack.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Honey-Roasted Onion Tart with Bacon

The onion often remains a backdrop, only present for subtle flavoring. However this recipe puts the onion right in the spotlight and I couldn't be happier. I find the spice of raw onion a bit overwhelming but I could eat caramelized onions for days. Sweet, tender, fragrant, heavily sauted onions are added to any dish I can fit them into. However, I rarely use onions as a featured ingredient. I love this recipe because it highlights the onion. This is a rare and truly an onion-in-the-spotlight-dish. They are paired with the spectacular combination of white wine, honey and bacon. It is absolutely divine and even a bit indulgent. I could see mini tarts served as a perfect appetizer with a generous glasses of white wine. That is my kind of happy hour. Onions, bacon, wine... does it really get any better than that?
Honey-Roasted Onion Tart with Bacon adapted from Bon Appetit

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of a 17.3-ounce package), thawed
3 bacon slices, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 large sweet yellow onions (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut in to 1/4-inch-thick half moons
3/4 cup creme fraiche (plain yogurt or sour cream are great substitutes)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or a pinch of dried thyme

1. Positions rack in top third of oven and preheat to 375 degreed fahrenheit. Grease or line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the thawed puff pastry on a lightly floured surface to about a 14x10-inch rectangle. Fold 1/2 inch of pastry edges in toward the center on all sides to form a 13x9-inch rectangle. Transfer pastry to the prepared baking sheet. Press firmly on the pastry edges with a for to form the rim. Chill the crust in the refrigerator.
3. Cook the bacon in a small skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp. Transfer to power towels and allow to drain. Reserve bacon drippings.
4. Whisk together 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings, honey and wine in a large bowl. Add onions and toss to coat. Prepare another large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Spread the onion mixture in an even layer on the sheet. Roast the onions until they are caramelized, turning often for even browning, about 3o to 45 minutes. Remove from oven; cool onions slightly.
5. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
6. Mix creme fraiche, salt and nutmeg in a small bowl. Spread the mixture over the prepared crust to the folded edge. Arrange the onions atop the creme fraiche mixtures. Sprinkle with bacon.
7. Bake tart until crust is light golden brown and topping is bubbling, 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with thyme and serve.