Insta-Recipes


Recently it occurred to me that it's not very nice to post pictures of delicious food on Instagram without sharing the recipes. I love cooking and food and talking about food almost as much as I love writing and reading and talking about books, so it only makes sense to devote a corner of my website to recipes. Enjoy and stay tuned for more recipes coming soon.

Click on the photos in the slideshow below to view recipes or simply scroll through the page below! Enjoy.


French Macarons


I've been watching a lot of cooking shows on TV. In addition to my old favorites--MasterChef, MasterChef Junior, Chopped, the America's Test Kitchen--I recently binged my way through all the seasons of the Great British Baking Off that are available on Netflix, and I was utterly dejected when I learned that not ALL of the seasons are on there. I tried watching some of the other seasons on YouTube, but those darn copyright patrols have really cracked down on unauthorized videos :(

 

The Great British Bake Off (on netflix known as the Great British Bake Show) is the Best. Cooking. Competition. Ever.

 

The people are nice to each other, the make amazing things, and there's a lot less of that fake TV magic of shows like MasterChef (Those kids get coached, people. Seriously.). British people eat a much bigger variety of baked goods than Americans, it would seem, because much of what they make I've never heard of, and I constantly have to look things up, which is part of the fun.

 

That said, one thing everyone on that show is always making is French Macarons. Need a little something round and pretty to decorate a cake? Make French Macarons. Want to top the cookie tower off with something special? French Macarons. Need something to put inside the box made of chocolate? French Macarons.

 

There are so many Macarons on that show it's unbelievable, yet my own favorite American cooking shows and cookbooks don't even offer recipes for the little cookies, and to buy one at a bakery is to quickly empty one's wallet. Three bucks or more for a bite-sized cookie? Granted, they are bites of heaven, but still, they are pricey little morsels.

 

So after watching Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry tasting all those yummy macarons, I thought, what the hell? How hard could it be? 

 

As it turns out, kinda hard. And now I fully understand the price tag. I think the starting price I'd put on the last batch I made would about $100 a cookie, so good thing they aren't for sale. 

 

First I tried Martha Stewart's recipe for Basic French Macarons. It didn't go great. 

 

As you can see, these cookies, which are basic almond macarons with swiss buttercream filling, don't look smooth and elegant. They are gritty and didn't form nice rounds, and the puffed up much too high. The buttercream itself was actually too buttery, said my husband, a man who treats bread as merely a vehicle for butter.

 

After this failure, I started doing research. I read literally dozens of recipes and I saw where Martha's cookie went wrong: The oven temp she recommended was WAY too high and definitely accounted for the height of the cookies. They were more like angel-kiss meringue cookies than macarons. Her proportions of egg white to flour and sugar was also different from most that I saw.

 

For my second attempt, I tried the cookie recipe from the Food Network.

 

 

As you can clearly see, this attempt got me even farther from the desired result. These little bites grew so tall that they were like pretty, fragrant little mushrooms, and we decided to call them "Mac-balloons" instead of macarons. Again, they don't have smooth tops, and these had big air pockets inside. 

 

For the filling on these, I used the leftover Martha Stewart buttercream, but I added in a Hazlenut Praline spread (from Le Pain Quotidien) to temper that buttery taste. The filling was definitely the best part, although if I left the macarons at room temperature for too long, it got too soft and the tops slide off.

 

This time, in my follow up research, I concluded that it a combination of the recipe and my technique that was the big problem.

 

In terms of technique, I had made such a beautiful, glossy-peaked meringue from my egg whites, and then when I stirred in the almond flour and powdered sugar, I was so afraid of deflating the meringue that I hadn't stirred it together enough, and the whole mixture was simply too stiff.

 

In terms of the recipe, this one--just like Martha's--definitely didn't call for enough caster sugar (ultrafine sugar) in the egg white meringue.

 

Finally, I turned the world of YouTube tutorials for answers. I watched seven or eight videos of home chefs whipping up perfect macarons, and then I tried again, and this time, success, as evidenced in the pics on the top of this post.

Mocha Macarons with Chocolate Ganache Filling

This is the tutorial from Cupcake Savvy's Kitchen that wound up leading to success!

They claim you'll get 60 to 70 shells out of this. I got 48, but it's true that mine are kind of big, and next time I'll definitely pipe them smaller.

 

I also, once again, had a lot of leftover ganache, but at least chocolate ganache is easy to use up (unlike buttercream frosting).

 

Also, the type of chocolate I used, Ghirardelli 60%, was maybe too dark, so the ganache is a tad overpowering. Next time I might made a milk chocolate ganache instead.

 

I also definitely recommend a kitchen scale that can measure in grams. My first attempts I was using ounces and I didn't weigh my egg whites. For this successful effort, I switched to grams and I even measured egg whites.

 

I used silicone mats instead of parchment paper, I used the lower cooking time of 15 minutes, rotating the tray front-to-back halfway through.


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Sourdough Heaven


I have a new pet: Sourdough!

 

Okay, maybe pet isn't the best analogy since every week I turn my sourdough into something delicious to eat, but I also have to carefully tend and feed it and keep it alive, so... A pet you leave in the fridge and enjoy for dinner. I still have A LOT to learn about sourdough baking, but I've already found some recipes and techniques that have worked great.

 

So just what is a sourdough, you ask? Great question. Sourdough baked goods--ranging from bread to crackers--are leavened with a bubbling, growing, living mixture of flour and water that has been matured over a couple of weeks. Some types of sourdoughs use a combination of this mature "starter" and yeast, but traditional sourdoughs use no added yeast.

 

You can make your own sourdough starter from scratch as I did using a Cooks Illustrated recipe, or you can buy one, like this one from King Arthur Flour.

 

Once your starter is mature, you simply follow the recipe instructions regarding feeding it prior to baking or, for weeks when you aren't planning to bake, you feed it to maintain it.

 

The recipe I use has a simple feeding method for maintenance:

 

  • Measure out 2 oz. (1/4 c) maintained starter. Add 2.5 oz. (1/2 c) all purpose flour and 2 oz. (1/4 c) room temperature filtered water. Mix well, cover, leave at room temperature for 5 hours. Transfer for a storage container such as a wide mouth mason jar and keep in the fridge. Feed at least once a week.

When planning to bake, I increase the quantities above in order to have enough fed starter for baking as well as some left over to keep for next week. 

 

One of the downsides of maintaining a starter is that there is almost always so excess or "discard" starter that you throw away when feeding your mixture. A solution to this is to seek recipes that call for "unfed" starter. So far I've used unfed starter to make fabulous soft pretzels and fantastic Belgian waffles.

 

For me the greatest challenge with sourdough is timing. You have to plan carefully backwards to feed your starter at the right time prior to baking so there's no such thing as an impulse bake with this type of dough, but if you stick to a schedule, you can make sourdough an easy part of your routine.

 

  • My first essential tip for working with sourdough starter: Use a kitchen scale. 

 

Mucking around with measuring cups with this sticky, gooey, goop is a nightmare and a mess to clean up. But using a wooden spoon, a silicone spatula, mixing bowls and a digital scale makes it easier. 

 

I do store my starter in a wide mouth mason jar (16 oz). At first I didn't understand why anyone used jars with this sticky, messy mixture, but once I started using a scale instead of measuring cups, it started to make sense. I get it ready for storage in nice big bowls and then just pour what I'm saving into jars.

 

  • My second essential tip: Don't over fill your mason jar and when screwing on the jar lid, invert the lid so that it is upside down under the metal cuff. This way if your starter grows in the fridge, it'll ooze out instead of breaking your jar. If you see it oozing, open the jar, discard some of the starter, and close it back up.

 

  • My third essential tip: Wash your bowls, jars, and utensils immediately after using them. Starter turns into a cement-like substance if left to dry, and then good luck getting it off!

 

Sourdough Recipes To start With

 

I'm a huge fan of slow rise, no-knead bread. They are often cooked in a dutch over so they have a nice boule shape and hearty crust, and they are easy as can be. This recipe certainly is easy, and the crust is nice without being too thick.

 

As I mentioned, timing is always the trick. What I've done for this recipe is is this:

 

Thursday after work, I feed my starter. Per feeding instructions, I set aside the amount I plan to bake with and leave it in the fridge over night.

 

Friday after work, I prepare the dough and let it rise until Saturday morning.

 

Saturday morning I bake.

 

This is not a very useful recipe for weekdays if you work outside the home. That said, this week I realized you can prepare the bread through it's first rise, shape into a boule, and then refrigerate in a grease bowl, tightly covered, for several days until ready to bake, which makes weekday baking look a lot more possible. Still, though, from the minute you take it out of the fridge until it's ready to eat is AT LEAST 4.5 hours if not more like 5.5 to 6 hours, so still not a great weekday option.

 

I have two other issues with this recipe so far: 

 

1. You have to use parchment paper in the dutch oven or the bread will stick. I make this often enough that I am going through parchment like crazy, and as a result, next week I'm trying a different recipe that doesn't require parchment.

 

2. The crumb ends up being very wet. A moist loaf is nice, but this recipe can lead to very chewy bread. Although it reaches the proper temperature (so says my trusty thermapen) and the outside is dark enough that I dare not cook it any longer, sometimes the inside feels not quite done.

 

Next week I'm going to try this recipe from the NYTimes that follows the same basic cooking method I use for my regular no knead bread. I'll let you know how it goes!

 

This is a great way to use up "discard" starter. I didn't have any of the special ingredients listed in the recipe so I used the common household alternatives and they were absolutely perfect. My hubby keeps asking me to make more.

 

Beautifully crispy outside, fluffy and light inside, these waffles are the best I've ever made for sure. They freeze really well, too. They do require you to plan ahead and make the sponge the night before, but then in the morning you're basically ready to bake (you just add eggs and butter before baking). 

 

 

Do you have favorite sourdough recipes? If you do, I'd love to hear from you! Please share!

 

 


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Quick Pork Dinner

A quick dinner for busy days
A quick dinner for busy days

I love cooking, as you know, and I often spend weekends in the kitchen, but this weekend, after a cold snap and then some cold windy days, I was too thrilled with some sunshine and (slightly) warmer weather to be cooped up inside. Instead of elaborate dishes, I threw together a quick dinner of boneless pork chops with apples and onions with rice pilaf and asparagus on the side!

 

The Recipe

  • Thick cut boneless pork chops*
  • Onion, sliced medium
  • Apple, peeled and sliced medium
  • Craisins
  • Butter
  • EVOO
  • Salt and Paper

Preheat the oven to 425 and place the rack in the middle position.

 

Heat a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add some butter and oil (I use a mix of both--butter for flavor, oil to keep the smoke point down--but you can use one or the other if you like), add onions and apple, sprinkle with salt, sauté until softened and beginning to brown.

 

Meanwhile, pat the pork chops dry. Season generously with salt and pepper.

 

Move the apples and onions to the outside of the skillet. Place the pork chops in the center of the skillet. Brown for two minutes. Flip. Brown for two more minutes. Flip again.

 

Pile the apples and onions on top of the pork chops and transfer the skillet to the oven. Cook for 6 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness of your chops. Internal temp should reach at least 140 (it will rise a few more degrees while resting to end up at around 145 for medium).

 

Move apples and onions off the pork, transfer chops to a plate, tent loosely, let rest for 5 minutes.

 

Place apple and onion mix in a serving bowl, add craisins, scrape up any pan juices and toss with apple and onion mixture.

 

Serve!

 

Serving suggestion:

 

I serve this with roasted asparagus and rice pilaf. The rice can cook and the asparagus can roast while the pork is being prepped, and using the oven for two things makes heating up the oven for less than 10 minutes of cooking pork seem more worthwhile!

 

 

 

*This recipe can be scaled up or down with as few as one or two pork chops up to as many can fit in your pan. Scale other ingredients as needed.

 


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Mini Crustless Spinach Quiche

Mini Quiche with a Side of Bacon
Mini Quiche with a Side of Bacon

I developed this recipe to solve a breakfast problem. I wanted a grab-and-go weekday option that didn't rely on sugar or carbohydrates. Mini quiche--crust omitted--seemed like a great make-ahead option.

 

Why, you are wondering, am I avoiding sugar and carbs in the morning? Have I lost my mind? Well, not exactly.

 

I'm not a fan of dieting, elimination diets, or the concept of "going on a diet." I spent my teens and twenties tormenting myself with diets not because I was overweight but because I was utterly and completely terrified of gaining weight. The only result of my efforts "to diet": Years of stomach aches. Literally. Dieting made my physically ill. Now, thanks to the wisdom of my age, I have a simple philosophy in life: Not self-sacrifice, but self-cherishing.* 

 

I've long-since reformed my dieting ways. I understand now that

 

1. There are a lot more interesting things about me than my dress size.

2. Food is one of life's greatest pleasures and should be treated as such.

3. The diet industrial complex thrives precisely because diets don't actually work for most people in the long run.

4.  I am much more likely to gain weight when I'm obsessed with my weight than when I'm happily engaged in living my life.

 

That said, I am concerned, as most people are, with my health. I'm not getting any younger, and I want to do what I can to stay fit and active, and--most importantly--to feel energized and happy.

 

To that end, I was recently listening to an episode of Gretchen Rubin's Happier Podcast in which she talked about Gary Taubes's new book THE CASE AGAINST SUGAR. I was intrigued enough to read the book, and then to read Taubes's previous work, WHY WE GET FAT.

 

I'm not a scientist, so maybe I'm easily fooled, but Taubes's presentation of the science of what happens when we eat sugar and his analysis of how the sugar lobby countered good science with bad science and masterful marketing to ensure the steady growth of the sugar industry are utterly compelling and have gotten me thinking about what I eat and how I feel when I eat certain things, all in the name of self-cherishing, not self-sacrifice.

 

For me, the takeaway is that the healthiest food is homemade with simple ingredients. Really, it's the same takeaway I have from reading Michael Pollen's work: Eat food, not too much. Avoid unpronounceable ingredients and anything previous generations wouldn't recognize as food. 

 

As such, I've been eating a lot less sugar and far fewer carbs, and I feel great! I have tons of energy and my usual old tummy aches, a near daily nuisance since college, have been fewer and farther in between.

 

 

I have found it quite easy to reduce the amount of sugar in all parts of my day but breakfast. Yes, eggs are a good breakfast, but I don't always have time to make a hot breakfast on weekdays If I'm having eggs, I want side dishes like bacon or sausage and toast, and now it's a little more involved than I'm willing to get on your average Tuesday.

 

Enter mini crustless spinach quiche. I can make a big batch on the weekend and have breakfast ready for the week. I get a nice dose of protein and veg and start the day right. Not self-sacrifice, but self-cherishing!

 

*I borrow this phrase from "My Garden," an essay published under the name Gail Hamilton (which is the pen name of Mary Abigail Dodge) that appeared in the Atlantic in May, 1862.

 

 

The Recipe

  • 16 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed out as dry as possible
  • 6 scallions, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 2 T. oregano leaves, minced
  • 6 extra large or 8 large eggs, beaten
  • 15 oz whole milk ricotta
  • 1 c. crumbled feta
  • 3/4 c. milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

 

Arrange oven racks on upper and lower middle positions. Preheat the oven to 425.

 

Whisk together eggs, ricotta, feta, and milk. Season with salt and pepper.

 

Stir in spinach, scallions, garlic, oregano, and lemon juice.

 

Prepare two muffin trays: Spray 8 cups in each tray with nonstick spray (I first tried to squeeze this recipe into one 12-cup muffin tray, but the mixture bubbled over and made a mess). 

 

Spoon mixture into prepared cups.

 

Place trays in oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Halfway through baking, rotate trays top to bottom and front to back.

 

Remove trays from oven and place on wire racks. Cool for five minutes and then run a sharp knife around each mini quiche. Continue to cool in tray about 10 minutes. 

 

To unmold, place a cookie sheet upside-down on top of the muffin tray and flip to invert quiche out of the muffin cups. Turn quiche right-side-up and serve.

Ready to serve or store for later!
Ready to serve or store for later!

Quiche can be stored in the fridge for 5 days or so, and can be individually wrapped and frozen for a couple of months.


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Simple, Silky Carrot-Ginger Soup

Big Batch Soup for Chilly Days
Big Batch Soup for Chilly Days

After a ridiculously warm February, March has stormed in with a late burst of winter here in central Massachusetts, and that's the perfect excuse to whip up a batch of this smooth soup that is warming and satisfying without being heavy.

 

The Recipe

  • 2 pounds baby carrots
  • 1 T. minced ginger*
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 7 c. stock**
  • Thyme end EVOO for garnish

 

Place all ingredients in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook, covered, for an hour.

 

Let cool slightly.

 

Puree in batches in the blender.

 

Sprinkle with thyme and drizzle with EVOO to serve.

 

*I use a prepared ginger that is sold in jars in the Asian section of the international aisle at the grocery story. It's more a ginger paste than minced.

 

**I use homemade whenever possible, but you can use whatever you've got. Works well with both vegetable stock and chicken stock, or even turkey stock.

 

Serve with crusty bread for a lovely lunch.
Serve with crusty bread for a lovely lunch.

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