Monday, December 28, 2009

Breakfast Bars with Tart Cherries, Toasted Pecans and Chocolate Chunks

As a self-diagnosed hypoglycemic (I'm not a doctor, but I play one on.. my blog?) I have spent many a pretty couple of dollars on energy-type bars. There are some better versions available these days than the Tiger Milk Bars of my childhood, or those weird 'yogurt' covered thingies we used to take camping, but I guarantee none will compare to the fresh baked taste of these beauties. Like a cross between your favorite chocolate chip cookie, granola bar and trail mix, they are packed with healthful ingredients to give you a boost any time of day. I've tried several different versions of DIY energy type bars; from no-bake varieties held together with nut butters and sticky sweeteners, to soft, cake-like confections. This one meets somewhere in the middle, managing to taste elegantly decadent and heartily healthful all in one tart, sweet, nutty bite.

Most importantly, they are a snap to mix up. Combine the wets, combine the dries, mix together, put them in the oven and forget about them for half an hour or so. What you have are 12 bars of loveliness to keep your blood sugar up all week long.

I have never been one to make new year's resolutions (although I do appreciate how business increases every January at the yoga studio where I do work exchange). They only set you up for disappointment, and why would you want to start the new year criticizing yourself for the way you've behaved in the past? I've also never been one to clean much (just ask Jay or my mom; they will certainly give you an earful), but I find a certain, if grim, enjoyment in organizing the kitchen around this time of year. I unfailingly find multiple bags of obscure flours, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit left over from bygone culinary sessions. Say I needed 3 tablespoons of masa harina for a soup. I bought slightly more, erring on the side of overestimating. Then the remainder sits around for a year or two, getting hidden in the back of the cupboard under similarly diminutive bags of farina, pumpernickel, multigrain mix, or brazil nuts since there's too little to do anything with.

The goodies I put in the bars (dried sour cherries, currants, pecans, chocolate chunks, orange zest) were things that needed using. The measurements are just a guidline, so feel free to experiment with flours, grains, dried fruits, nuts and seeds that my be lurking, neglected, in your cupboard. Add spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom, or candied ginger if you fancy.

Perhaps my new years resolution will be to bring measuring cups and spoons to the bulk aisle from now on...

Breakfast Bars
with Tart Cherries, Toasted Pecans, and Chocolate Chunks

Makes 1 8x8" pan, or twelve bars

3/4 cup whole wheat or spelt flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup wheat germ or bran, or oat bran
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tablespoons flaxseeds
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chopped dried sour cherries (or other dried fruit)
3/4 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans
3 ounces (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted (optionally browned)
1/2 cup brown sugar (dark or light)
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange

Position a rack in the oven and preheat to 350º. Line an 8x8" pan with parchment paper, letting the sides hang over like a sling. (This will make removing the bars a cinch.)

In a large bowl, whisk together the dries to combine. Stir in the dried fruit, chocolate and nuts.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the wets to combine. Pour them into the dries and stir to combine thoroughly.

Spread evenly in the parchmented pan, and bake for 30-40 minutes. The Bars should feel set and firmish in the center, with browned edges.

Let cool for about 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cut while still warm into 12 bars. Cool and store in an airtight container for up to a week or so, or wrap tightly and freeze for up to a couple months.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sourdough Pizza with Chanterelles, Shallots and Chevre

During a month-long sojourn in Lecce, Italy one summer, my friend and I met a trio of Italian stallion locals. Fabio, Giorgio and Massimo took us under their care, showing us around their favorite beaches, restaurants and bars. Strolling down the road one afternoon, Fabio pointed out his preferred pizzeria. A dashing pizzaiolo greeted us amicably as we looked inside. In an attempt at making conversation, I lamely asked him how the pizza was that evening. With a throaty chuckle, he replied, 'Grande, grande,' accompanying the comment with a peculiar gesture. Yanking me outside, Fabio asked if I realized what 'pizza' was a euphemism for in the local dialect. Let's just say I never got to experience any sort of pizza from that pizzaiolo; I was too mortified to ever return.

I've sampled some delectable pizzas in my time (I mean that in the cleanest possible sense), but nothing makes me swoon like the ones from Berkeley's Cheese Board. With the California touches of a chewy sourdough crust, oven crisped alliums, ample amounts of various cheeses, and a drizzle of garlic oil and herbs, they embody my pizza holy grail.

Luckily for me, the folks at The Cheese Board divulge their pizza (and many other) secrets in their charming cookbook, saving me a drive across the Bay Bridge and a wait in a line snaking down the block listening to live jazz (the horror). If you love sourdough, cheese and baking, you should own this book. (If you don't, then what are you doing reading this blog?)

Having a foodie dad growing up meant Sundays often spent rolling fresh pasta, churning ice cream, and learning to make pizza from scratch; thus I have been making pizza at home for much of my life (thanks, Dad!) I've played around with sourdough crusts for a few years, and while the recipe from the Cheese Board works beautifully, I wanted to use up more starter than the half-cup per three crusts that they ask for, so I tweaked things accordingly, giving the soft dough a lengthy knead in the mixer, and additionally kneading the dough by hand a bit to adjust the final consistency. The crust improved with the second round of pizza, made a day later, after the dough had sat in the fridge overnight, baking up more tender, light and crisp. Hence, I recommend making the dough a day ahead and giving it a second rise in the fridge. If you do this, bring the dough up to room temperature before forming the pizzas.

This crisp, chewy flatbread is all the more exquisite crowned with foraged chanterelles, caramelized shallots, soft goat cheese and gooey mozzarella. Dry-frying the chanterelles rids these watery mushrooms of excess moisture (which would result in soggy pizza and slimy shrooms if you were to skip this step; but you wouldn't dream of doing that, would you?). This also enables you to clean the notoriously dirt-encrusted shrooms as vigorously as you like; yes, even with water, as you have likely been admonished not to do. Save the cooked-off mushroom juice to use in a soup, or to cook grains such as wild rice or barley. Feel free to use other mushrooms if you like, sauteing them in a bit of olive oil first and draining off the excess moisture.

As much as a love a creamy boule of fresh mozzarella di bufala, I actually prefer a drier cheese for pizza making as it releases less water as it bakes, and browns up nicely. If you want to use the wet stuff, layer it on the pizza when it is five minutes or so away from being done.


And the pre-pizza show in Corallitos on Christmas eve:

Sourdough Pizza
with Chanterelles, Shallots and Chevre

Adapted from The Cheese Board

Makes three 12" pizzas; each pizza serves 2-4

Timeline: (total time: 6 hours or up to a day or two)
mix the dough: 30 minutes
first rise: about 4 hours
optional second rise in fridge: 12 hours or more (plus 2 hours to bring the dough to room temp)
bake all three pizzas, about 1 hour

Some handy equipment to have:
stand mixer
metal and plastic scrapers
parchment paper
baking stone
pizza peal
pastry brush
pizza cutter

Sourdough Crust:
8 ounces sourdough starter, well-fed and ready to raise bread (1 cup stirred down, or up to 3 cups full of bubbles)
pinch of yeast (optional, if you're not totally confidant of your starter's vigor)
10 ounces (1 1/4 cups) water, room temperature
15 ounces (3 cups) bread flour
2 teaspoons salt

Combine the starter, water and flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low (speed 3) until combined, then knead for five minutes. Sprinkle on the salt and knead on 3 for 12 minutes. The dough should be soft, but pull away from the sides of the bowl as it is kneaded. If it seems dry or stiff, dribble in water by the teaspoon until it softens up. For overly wet dough, add flour by the teaspoon until is comes away from the sides of the bowl.

Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 5 minutes or so to adjust the final consistency. The dough should feel soft and springy, slightly tacky but not overly wet or sticky. If you round it into a boule, it should softly schlump out and flatten slightly, not sit up high in a pert round, or sploosh out into a flat mass.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl or container and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 4 hours.

(Optional: turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and, pressing out as little air as possible, fold the four corners of the dough into the center, making a square parcel. Place the dough back into the container, and let it hang out in the fridge for a few hours to a couple days. Bring the dough back to room temp before shaping, which takes about 2 hours.)

1 garlic clove
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 pounds chanterelles, cleaned throughly and sliced into 1-2" pieces
1 hefty shallot, thinly sliced
1 pound mozzarella (not the fresh stuff in water), sliced
4 oz. fresh goat cheese, in hazelnut-sized crumbles
a few sprigs parsley and/or tarragon, chopped just before serving

Press or mince the garlic into a small bowl and add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet (well-seasoned cast iron or stainless steel, preferably) over medium-high. When the pan is hot, add just enough mushrooms to cover the bottom. Let cook without disturbing for several minutes. When the mushrooms have dropped some liquid, carefully pour it off (into a jar to save for doing something else with later.) Continue to cook the mushrooms in this manner, pouring off the liquid as they cook, turning occasionally, until the mushrooms are done to your liking. They should be tender but still have a bit of bite. Remove the mushrooms to a separate bowl or plate and repeat with the remaining mushrooms. Season the cooked shrooms with a few pinches of salt.

When the mushrooms are done, wipe out the skillet and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Saute the shallots over medium heat until tender, translucent and golden, 10-15 minutes. Season with a few pinches of salt and let cool.

Make the pizzas:
An hour before baking, place a rack in the bottom position of the oven and place a baking stone on top. Preheat to 500º.

Gently plop the dough onto a lightly floured surface, leaving as much air in the dough as possible. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, cut the dough into even-ish thirds. Tuck the ends under to form loose, rounded boules, and cover the boules with a damp cloth. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes or so (this will relax the glutens, making the dough easier to pull into a flat round).

Uncover one boule. Begin to gently press, pull and stretch the dough into a 12" round. I like to pick it up and drape it over my fists, letting its own weight stretch it out. If the dough resists stretching, let it rest some more until it stops fighting you. The last thing you want is to tear the dough, so be patient and it will eventually cooperate.

When the dough is mostly stretched, lift it onto a piece of parchment paper placed on your pizza peal. Trim the edges round so that they don't burn in the heat of the oven.

Layer a third of each of the topping ingredients onto the dough, leaving a 1/2" boarder: shallots and shrooms, then mozzarella and goat cheese.

Slip the pizza, parchment and all, onto the stone in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes. The dough should be lightly golden on the bottom and edges, and the cheese should be browned in places. (You can form your next pizza while the first one bakes.)

Use a pair of tongs to pull the pizza off the parchment and back onto the peal, then slide it onto a large cutting board. Brush the crust with garlic oil, and drizzle a little over the top. Sprinkle with the freshly chopped herbs. Cut into 8 wedges and serve. Repeat the whole process with the remaining pizzas.

This pizza is heavenly served with a glass of bubbly Prosecco, a medium-bodied white such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, or even a crisp Pilsner.

Sourdough-Flaxseed Waffles

I had no idea what a monster I would create when I gave a small jar of starter, and a recipe for sourdough crèpes, to Jay's mom's sweetie, Gunars. He adapted the crèpe recipe into that of waffle batter, and for the past year, he has been gracing us with the most heavenly crepes and waffles each morning when we visit. (Update 2/4/14 - four years later, he is still at it.)

These waffles are by far the best I've ever had - light and crispy on the outside, chewy and gooey on the inside, and slightly sour – the perfect vehicle for berry preserves and barely sweetened whipped cream on a leisurely morning soaking up the sun.

Start the crepes the night before. Mix the starter with more flour and water, and let it sit overnight. The next day, stir in some sugar, salt, eggs, oil and flaxseeds. Let the batter rest for 15 minutes while you fire up your waffle iron. Get to it, serving the waffles as they cook.

Extra waffles can be frozen and reheated for quick, luxurious breakfasts all week long.

The waffle master, enjoying a well-deserved breakfast

Sourdough-Flaxseed Waffles

Makes 8-10 8" round waffles

1 cup liquid sourdough starter
3 cups all purpose flour (or a mixture of white and whole grain flour, such as spelt or whole wheat)
3 1/2 - 3 2/3 cups water (enough to make a stir-able consistency)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons whole flaxseeds

The night before, mix the starter, flour and water in a large bowl until smooth. Cover and leave overnight.

The next morning, whisk together the eggs, oil, sugar, soda, salt and seeds. Stir into the batter, mixing just to combine. Let rest for 15 minutes. The batter should be full of bubbles and fairly thin.

Heat the waffle iron, and cook according to the iron's instructions, using about 2/3 cup batter per 8" round waffle. Eat while hot and crispy with your choice of toppings, such as:

creme fraiche, yogurt or softly whipped cream
fresh fruit
jam or preserves

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mushrooms for Dessert: Candy Cap Creme Caramels

No, you are not having a mushroom induced hallucination -- well, maybe you are, but you did read that title correctly. Candy caps, or lactarius rubidus, have a strong maple aroma when dried and are often used in pastry making. I first sampled this delicious fungus at Alive, a raw restaurant in the Marina, in a candy cap cheesecake. Now I know that raw, mushroom-flavored cheesecake sounds completely revulsive, but one bite of their ethereal confection bursting with creamy, maple goodness would immediately dissuade you otherwise.

I longed to get my mitts on some of those shrooms to play with, and, luckily, didn't have to wait long. A mycologically-inclined friend generously offered some up that he'd found foraging. I made some heavenly ice cream, then hoarded the rest, thinking I mightn't get more.

But the other day, the same friend took us hunting. We didn't have to work too hard as the hills were practically littered with them. A few hours of minimal scrambling and huffing and we'd collected two sheet pans' worth. As the new ones dried in the oven, I decided to make good on the old.

I steeped some dried caps in a mixture of milk and cream for half an hour,

then tempered the dairy into eggs and sugar and strained the mixture.

I caramelized some sugar

poured it into ramekins,

and added the custard.

The custards baked in a water bath, then chilled overnight. The caramel absorbs liquid from the custard, turning it into a luscious sauce. These creme caramels are smooth, creamy and burst with the sweet, maple-like flavor of candy caps. Your guests will never know they're made with fungi. If you lack trustworthy mushroom geek friends, you can order candy caps from here.

Candy Cap Creme Caramels

Makes 4

make the base: 1 hour
bake the custards: 1 hour
chill the custards: 12-24 hours

Begin this dessert the day before you wish to serve it, as the custards need to chill for a minimum of 12 hours so that the caramel has time to liquify into a luscious sauce. Once you've made the custard base, you can keep it in the fridge for a day or two before baking. The baked custards keep for a couple days.

If doubling the recipe, you can either use 2 whole eggs and 4 yolks, or 1 whole egg and 5 yolks.

Custard base:

1/3 cup (1/4 ounce) dried candy cap mushrooms
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 egg
2 egg yolks


1 1/2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup sugar
pinch cream of tartar

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325º. Have four 4 ounce ramekins ready, and an 8" square pan with 2" high sides.

Combine the caps, milk, cream and half the sugar in a small saucepan. Place over medium heat until bubbles form along the sides of the pan and the mixture steams, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, cover and steep for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the caramel. Pour the water into the pot, then add the sugar, being careful not to get any crystals on the side of the pot. Add the cream of tarter, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, without stirring, until the sugar dissolves, the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar begins to color. Gently tilt the pan to brown the sugar evenly. If any crystals cling to the sides of the pan, brush them down with a clean, wet pastry brush. When the sugar reaches a medium amber color, remove it from the heat and immediately pour into the bottoms of four 4 ounce ramekins, tilting to coat them with the caramel. (If you're wondering how the heck to get that residual hardened caramel out of the pot, pour some super hot water into it and let it sit for 10 minutes or so.) Place the coated ramekins in an 8" square pan with at least 2" high sides and set aside.

Back to the custard. Whisk the egg, yolks, salt and the other half of the sugar in a medium bowl to combine. Place the bowl on a damp towel. Re-scald the dairy, then slowly drizzle it into the egg mixture, whisking like mad. Strain the whole deal through a fine mesh sieve into a large pitcher, pressing the mushrooms to extract as much liquid as possible. (The shrooms can be rinsed and dried for another use, like making candy cap extract.)

Pour the custard into the caramel-lined rams, filling them evenly. Pour hot tap water into the pan, coming two-thirds of the way up the sides of the rams (this is easier if you remove one ram first). Cover with a sheet pan or aluminum foil (punctured a few times to keep the custards from over-steaming). Place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. The custards are ready when they have a uniform jiggle, like jell-o. They should not appear runny or liquid (underbaked), nor should they have bubbles along the sides (overbaked).

Remove the ramekins from the water bath when cool enough to handle. Chill in an ice bath if you like, and put them in the fridge when mostly cool for at least 12 hours, or up to a couple days.

To serve, dip the ramekin in a bowl of hot water for a few moments. Use the pads of your thumbs to gently press around the top of the custard, prying it away from the ramekin and breaking the seal. Upend over a plate or shallow bowl. Holding the ramekin and plate firmly between your thumbs and fingers, give it a firm couple of downward shakes. The custard and sauce should slurp out. (If this doesn't work, you can run a sharp knife around the sides of the custard.) Remove the ramekin and repeat with the remaining custards.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Migas: The breakfast you've been waiting for

There's a cookbook out there with the brilliant title I am Almost Always Hungry. I think it highly unfair for someone to have stolen MY ideal book title (not that I had thought of it before, but still). It wouldn't necessarily have to be a cookbook, though; it could be my autobiography.

I am especially almost always hungry just as I arrive at work, which is unfortunate as I a) have just eaten breakfast, b) won't be having lunch for several hours, and c) am surrounded by sweets and food that I am not supposed to eat. To mitigate this regrettable circumstance, I try to have a nourishing, protein packed meal before leaving for work to stave off the inevitable starvation a tad longer. But I can't always face a plate of eggs first thing in the morning. It is times like these that I call upon migas.

I found migas in Deborah Madison's spectacular tome Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which has the same breadth of recipes as the Joy of Cooking without the jell-o molds, microwave instructions, and recipes labeled 'cockaigne' (what on earth does that mean, anyway?) As the title infers, the book is purely vegetarian. I am not vegetarian (you saw all those bacon posts, right?) but I do like to eat lots of vegetables, cheese, grains, legumes, fruit, and desserts, and this book covers all of that and more in an abundance of stylish, straightforward recipes.

You can put all the veggies you want in migas, a tex-mex dish related in theory to chilaquiles. Tortilla strips get crisped in oil, then sauteed with eggs, vegetables and salsa, and topped with all the lovely things you would want them topped with: avocado, cheese, sour cream, and more salsa. Fresh corn, strips of bell pepper, diced tomatoes, roasted green chiles, spinach, summer squash, and ribbons of cabbage all go beautifully, while adding color and healthiness (similar to 'truthiness?') to the dish. We almost always have a container of salsa and a stack of corn tortillas in the fridge ready and waiting to disguise eggs as a vibrant, nourishing, and appealing repast.

One morning, my mexican co-workers asked what I'd had for breakfast and I excitedly began describing migas to them. They snickered among themselves, then informed me that hormigas are ants en español.

I hope you enjoy these migas as much as I do. Feel free to add your own flair; but please, hold the formicidae.


Serves 2 generously

While the original recipe called for adding salsa to the tortilla strips and eggs, we've found that they stay crispier if you just use the salsa as a garnish when the migas are done cooking. Use any vegetables you like in place of or in addition to the zucchini and cabbage, such as fresh corn, strips of bell pepper, diced tomatoes, mushrooms, roasted green chiles, spinach or chard. Any mild melting or crumbling cheese goes well, including queso fresco, jack, goat gouda, and fresh chevre.

2 corn tortillas, cut into approximately 2 x 1" strips
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as olive or sunflower
1/2 onion, any color, or 1 medium leek, chopped
1 large zucchino, chopped
a cup or two finely shredded cabbage
3 eggs
a few ounces cheese, crumbled or grated
1/4 cup or more tomato salsa (we love Primavera's organic roasted tomato)

Preheat your broiler.

In a 9 or 10" skillet over medium heat, cook the tortilla strips in a tablespoon of oil until golden and crisp-ish, about ten minutes (they will crisp up more upon cooling). Season with a few pinches of salt, and tip out into a bowl or plate.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan along with the onions, and saute until tender and golden, another ten minutes or so. Add the veggies and saute until tender, five or ten minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Whisk the eggs with a few pinches of salt to break them up, then pour into the skillet with the veggies, adding oil first if the pan looks dry. Cook as you would a scramble, adding the tortilla strips when the eggs are about halfway cooked. When the eggs are done, sprinkle the cheese over the top and put the whole pan under the broiler for a few minutes to melt it. Serve with your toppings of choice.

Some possible toppings and sides:

avocado or guacamole
sour cream, crema, yogurt or creme fraiche
epazote, cilantro, basil, mint or parsley
shredded lettuce
shredded red or green cabbage
tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
slivered red onion or scallions
cilantro or basil pesto
sourkraut or escabeche
black or pinto beans

Friday, December 18, 2009

Horchata Ice Cream

Horchata, a mexican rice milk flavored with cinnamon, can be the perfect beverage for putting out the fire in your mouth while you put away a spicy taco or chile relleno. Imagine those sweet, delicate flavors conveyed in a buttery soft scoop of ice cream, and you'll know what's currently taunting me in my freezer.

With the amount of mexican food that the doc and I consume, it's a shame there aren't more taquerias using local, organic ingredients. We try to do most of our cooking at home, bojon style, but in a pinch nothing beats a seven-dollar veggie taco platillo from El Metate, brimming with sauteed carrots, broccoli, cabbage, salsa, crema, queso fresco, guacamole, rice, beans, lettuce and escabeche. I've been meaning to tackle horchata for a while now, made with happy ingredients, but have yet to find a reputable recipe. I made a batch of coconut milk horchata a couple years ago, from a recipe clipped from a magazine, and found it quite satisfactory. But when I gave a sample to a mexican friend, he balked at the flavor of 'raw rice.' When I tried to wrangle a recipe from him, all he would divulge was the toasting of the rice in a skillet. I recently asked another co-worker, who knows everything about the cuisine of his culture, how to make the stuff; he only shook his head, saying it was 'muy complicado'.

So while I still have yet to make bona fide horchata, which I know little about, I decided to make something I know a lot about instead: ice cream. Contrary to what you may think, ice cream is one of the easiest desserts to make. You know how people get all crazy about making things they think are hard? Pie dough, bread, creme brulee, chocolate mousse; all of these things have their tricks, but when it comes right down to it, the processes and ingredients are all quite simple. It's like how a handful of obnoxious people travel to Paris and act like doofuses, then they come back here and spread rampant rumors about how the French are snooty and rude. Stop freaking everyone out 'cause of your own dumb mistakes, people!

For this recipe, the rice gets toasted in a skillet until golden, then steeped in milk with a cinnamon stick. The whole deal gets cooked with sugar and egg yolks, mixed with heavy cream, strained, chilled, and spun into ice cream. The whole process takes a bit of time what with all the steeping and chilling, but the active time for the whole recipe is minimal - maybe half an hour, tops.

I am fascinated by ice creams and custards which, though frozen, taste of warming flavors. The toasty rice and spicy cinnamon in this ice cream accomplish just that, making it welcome on either a hot summer day or chilly winter night. As an added bonus, the rice starch, which leaches into the custard base, works as would gums or stabilizers in commercial ice creams, or cornstarch in gelato, lending a voluptuous mouthfeel and making the cream soft and pliable right from the freezer.

This ice cream is delicious served on its own, with a bit of cinnamon grated over the top, especially after a hot and spicy meal. You could also use it to top an apple pie or tart, along with a drizzle of cajeta. Or serve with some ripe berries, sliced peaches or poached apricots in the spring or summer.

Horchata Ice Cream

Makes about 3 cups, or 6 servings

Start this recipe at least a day before you want to serve it. Ice cream base should be chilled for at least 4 hours before churning, but chilling it overnight will yield a smoother, creamier texture and improved flavor. The ice cream needs to 'cure' in the freezer for a few hours after churning, too, unless you'd rather put the ice cream maker on the table, with spoons, and let your guests eat out of it like pigs feeding from a trough.

1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup medium or long grain white rice
3" cinnamon stick, plus an extra one for grating over the finished ice cream (optional)
4 or 5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch salt
1 cup heavy cream

In a dry, medium saucepan, toast the rice and cinnamon stick over medium heat until the rice is fragrant and barely golden, 1 - 2 minutes. Pour in the milk and heat until small bubbles appear around the sides of the pan, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, cover and steep for 30 minutes, or whenever you are ready to get on with the rest.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks, sugar, cinnamon and salt to combine. Pour the cream into a quart sized mason jar or metal bowl and set a fine mesh strainer over the top. Reheat the ricey milk until the small bubbles appear again, then slowly pour into the yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the whole deal back into the pan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof rubber spatula, until the mixture just starts to thicken on the bottom of the pan (170º). Immediately strain into the cold cream, stirring to combine.

Refrigerate the ice cream base for at least four hours or up to a couple days. Spin in an ice cream maker until the ice cream reaches the consistency of a very thick milk shake. 'Cure' in the freezer for an hour or two to firm to a scoopable consistency. Grate a bit of cinnamon stick over the ice cream to serve, if desired.

Triple Ginger Molasses Cookies, Three Ways

I have a bit of a problem making decisions sometimes, and have spent many hours agonizing over things like restaurant menus, socks, and especially recipes. Today I wanted to make triple ginger molasses cookies, but couldn't decide whether to make them classic, with chocolate chunks melting inside them, or dredged in orange sugar. So I divided the dough into thirds and made all three. Sometimes being indecisive pays off.

I was the most wary of the chocolate ones, but they turned out to be my favorite, especially soft, gooey and warm from the oven. The bitterness of the 70% chocolate enhances the deep richness of the molasses, all blending together with the various types of ginger.

Jay prefered the orange ones, and they do have a palette-pleasing zing to them.

But the classic ones are by no means dull, flecked and spicy with candied, ground and freshly grated gingers. They all make the house smell gorgeous as they bake.

I'm not a kitchen gadget person, but there are some tools that I sorely miss when I am without them. One is the spring loaded ice cream scoop. They come in handy for various purposes including portioning out drop cookie and scone dough, muffins, and cupcakes. I have a few different sizes ranging from small baby truffle to big daddy scone, and employ them all fairly regularly. They come in color coded handles; for modest-sized cookies, such as these, I use the purple one; for big, bakery sized cookies I use the red one.

Another tool is the plastic bench scraper. They cost about a dollar, so there's really no excuse not to have one. Stiffer and sturdier than a rubber spatula, they make scraping and mixing stiff doughs a breeze. Plus the lack of a handle means you usually get a lot of batter on your fingers, and who could blame you for licking it off?

The third and dearest to my heart is my little electronic scale, useful for weighing ingredients which are a drag to try to squish into a cup and then get back out, such as peanut butter, coconut oil, maple syrup or molasses. Instead, you can blithely just weigh everything into a bowl or two as you need them, thinking smugly how clever you are.

A fourth necessity is parchment paper. I despise those little rolls you often find in grocery stores and even cooking stores that should be more enlightened than that. It is always the wrong width, and annoying to cut each time you need a piece. You can order real, full-sized sheets here, or a friendly neighborhood bakery might sell you some if you ask nicely.

I'm not generally a milk drinker, but these deep, dark, spicy cookies call out for something mild and creamy to offset their richness. Enjoy with a glass of milk or a mug of hot apple cider, or one of each if you just can't make up your mind.

Triple Ginger Molasses Cookies

Adapted from Baking Illustrated

Makes 3 dozen 2" cookies

6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but cool
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1" knob fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup (6 ounces by weight) unsulphured blackstrap molasses
1/3 cup candied ginger, finely chopped
2 1/4 cups flour (11 1/4 ounces)
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup granulated or turbinado sugar, for rolling the cookies

Position a rack in the upper center of the oven and preheat to 375º. Line two or three rimless baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the butter, sugars and fresh ginger in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 - 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the yolk until combined, then the molasses and fresh and candied gingers.

Whisk together the dries in a medium bowl, and add to the butter mixture. Mix on low speed until barely combined. Remove from the mixer and fold by hand a couple times to make sure everything is hunky-dory.

Put the 1/3 cup sugar in a small bowl. Use a spring loaded ice cream scoop or a spoon to make 1" balls of dough, and roll each between your palms to round. Toss each ball in the sugar to coat, then place them on the parchmented sheet pans, spacing them two inches apart. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes until the edges are set but the centers are still very soft. They will seem under baked, but will firm up as they cool. Slide the parchment onto a cooling rack to stop the cookies from over baking, and let cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a few days.


For triple ginger chocolate chunk cookies, add 1 cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate to the dough along with the dries. Place a chunk or disc atop each cookie before baking.

For triple ginger citrus cookies, zest one orange into the batter along with the gingers. Zest a second orange into the rolling sugar and smush with your fingers until the sugar is clumpy with orange oil.