Archive | November, 2012

Peanut Butter and Almond Biscotti

30 Nov

Vacation is weird.  I don’t know what to do with myself.  I’ve been to the Art Institute three times this week.  My goodness.

But I’m going ice skating tonight, which is super exciting!  Because let me tell you something–the rink is in Millenium Park, and I’m going at night.  Chicago at night in the winter is the most gorgeous place.  Every single tree is covered in Christmas lights, there are giant Christmas trees all over the place, the skyscrapers are lit up red and green, and everyone and their mother is running around with a camera being absurdly happy.

Oh wait, that’s mostly just me.

DSC_0827

But still. It’s so beautiful here.  It’s like the city is saying, “You know what, this place is miserable in the winter, so we’re going to rock the fuck out for an entire month leading up the Christmas.”

DSC_0854

 

So anyway, Christmas blah blah blah, how about these biscotti?

I had a sudden biscotti craving because my wonderful sister sent me some for my birthday.  It is an established fact that she makes the best biscotti in spite of the fact that our family has nary a drop of Italian blood.  And come to think of it, I should have just asked her for her recipe…

But I didn’t, so instead, I adapted a Joy the Baker recipe for my purposes, which is, as usual, utterly delicious.  I particularly love the use of peanut butter here because it softens the biscotti even though it’s twice-baked, making it… you know… eatable.  Not teeth-breaking, that is.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 stick butter (4 tbsp)
  • 1/3 cup unsalted peanut butter (the stuff from TJ’s is brilliant)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk (hang on to the white so you can brush it over the dough)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup almonds (sliced or whole and blitzed with a food processor)
  • the egg white you saved and 1 tbsp milk for egg wash

Recipe:

Preheat oven to 325 with racks in the middle and upper third of oven. This is per Joy the Baker’s recipe, which I followed exactly for once since I am largely unfamiliar with biscotti making.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.

DSC_0631

In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, butter, and peanut butter until light and fluffy, or about 3 minutes.

DSC_0626

 

Mmm… delicious.

Add egg and egg yolk and beat until incorporated.  Add all the dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

DSC_0632

 

Add the nuts and stir together by hand.

Divide the batter in half and form two logs, about eight inches long.  She warned that the dough would be dry, but I still found it a little difficult to make the logs.  So… be aware.

DSC_0635

 

Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with as much sugar as you can stand.

Then, bake for 15 minutes.  Switch the pans between the two racks and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Remove and let cool.  Seriously, let them cool.  Otherwise when you go to slice them, they will fall apart all over the place.

When they’re cool but still soft, cut into 1 1/2 inch-thick slices.  Joy the Baker recommends using a serrated knife, but I found that the sawing made them fall apart more easily, so do whatever works for you.  You have two loaves, so you can mess one up and eat the crumbs if you need to.

Bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.

DSC_0653

 

These are especially good when dipped in coffee (by which I mean doubleshot lattes, which is pretty much all I drink).

DSC_0661Mmm, yes.

 

So I read a book called Tomatoland the other day, which has made me deeply afraid of tomatoes.  I got it because I thought it was about the ruinous genetic modifications and unsustainable farming practices as applied to tomatoes, which it is.  In part.  It’s also about the workers who pick the tomatoes, however.  The workers who are paid next to nothing and some of whom are literally modern day slaves.  Let’s just say it’s a very eye-opening book.  It will make you start to care–or care more, if you already do–about where our food comes from and how it gets to our tables.  It’s also a very readable book, so even if non-fiction isn’t usually your thing, you should have no trouble getting through the 193 pages.  Highly recommended.

 

 

Advertisements

Another Year, Another Novel

30 Nov

Winner-180x180

 

Woo-hoo!  This is my favorite novel yet, although it’s still not finished.  55K and counting!

Chipotle Brownies

25 Nov

Entirely without meaning to, and with very little indication that I would ever do this, I just marathoned the first season of Downton Abbey.  I’ve heard wonderful things about the show, but hadn’t been actively planning to watch it.  In fact, tonight I had planned to watch a kung-fu movie and knit, but then Downton Abbey happened and I randomly felt the need to clean the bathroom.

This was after I deposited the trash in the apartment’s bins via my window, which for some reason never stops being amusing.

So vacation’s going well, in other words.

But before vacation, there were brownies.  Specifically, these brownies, which hail from a magazine called Better Homes and Gardens, which published a special Chocolate Edition that my sister sent for my birthday.  How and where she found it, I do not know, but I am very happy she did.  It is essentially a magazine of chocolate recipes.  It is exactly as amazing as it sounds.

So there brownies in particular… they’re very exciting.  Not only do they have ground chipotle in them, they have espresso, so they really have an extra punch.  I wouldn’t say they’re overtly spicy, but they have a decided heat to them, which really changes the character of your typically sweet, fudgy chocolate.

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped or in individual squares
  • 1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp ground espresso (be sure to grind it very fine, or your brownies will be gritty)
  • 1-2 tsp ground chipotle pepper (my roommate and I trekked to Whole Foods to get this)
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Recipe:

Melt the chocolate and butter together on the stove with a double boiler or some improvised contraption of your choice.

While this is going down, combine the dry ingredients with the exception of the flour.

 

Once the butter-chocolate has melted and cooled, pour into the sugar mixture.

 

Beat together for about a minute, when the ingredients should be thoroughly combined.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each edition.  Then, beat in the vanilla.

Gradually add the flour, mixing until just combined.

 

Pour batter into a greased 9×9 and bake at 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or underbake them so extremely that they are essentially pudding with a thin crust.  Whatever makes you happy, or happens to happen…

 

Dust with some more cocoa powder for fanciness.

Coming up, there is biscotti that I have consumed at an alarmingly rapid speed, and I’m making Christmas cookies tomorrow, which means a ton, a ton, a ton of pictures.  I got some cookie cutters in the shapes of – wait for it, because this is glorious – a christmas tree, a snowflake, a brontosaurus, and a bee.

Yeah.  They make bee- and dinosaur-shaped cookie cutters.

Get excited.

 

I’m going to recommend the new film Anna Karenina instead of a book today because a) I’m in the middle of a book currently, and b) critics do not seem enthused by the film, which they damn well should be.  Don’t listen to any negative chatter over this movie, and don’t be put off by any lack of chatter (which is also a problem!  Why??)  To call the set design genius would be a terrible understatement.  The set is treated like a play, where you see it change before your eyes.  There are no scene changes, only moving doors and backstage areas, gangways and auditoriums.  It really emphasized the performance aspect of society in those times, which I think was invaluable in helping the viewer invest in the characters’ problems.  It’s so easy now to think, “How could she be totally ruined by divorce?  People divorce all the time now!”  It’s hard to be convinced by the problems of a period piece, that is.

Until you consider that you were expected to play a very narrowly-defined role on a perpetual stage on which the curtain never fell.  Then, the disgrace of a divorce and the pressure to save face makes sense.  That’s my favorite thing about the movie, but of course the cast is stellar, the costumes are delectable, and the score is very exciting, unlike John Williams some.  It’s not for everyone, but it has the potential to rock your face off if you give it a change.

Apple Crumble Bars

22 Nov

It is officially winter break and I’m completely lost.  I have nothing to do that is particularly urgent or time-consuming.  I’ve decided to see Anna Karenina tomorrow morning, but beyond that… I suppose I’ll be at the Art Institute a lot, and the library.  I just read a whole book in 4 hours. The next three weeks are going to be… challenging.

However, I have this blog, and many things I’d like to bake, and a gift card to Sur la Table, so this, at least, will keep me occupied.

They are everything apple pie should be and isn’t.  Because apple pie has two thin, measly layers of dough holding the warm, cinnamon-y apples together, but once you cut a slice out of the pie, the dough-to-fruit ratio is totally wonky.  Since these have crust on the bottom and a beautiful, thick crumble on top, you have a most excellent ratio where neither part overwhelms the other.

From the Milk and Cookies cookbook

Ingredients:

For the bars:

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, light packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 large apples, peeled, cored, cut into cubes or slices (I used Granny Smith, but I suppose you could use whatever apple you want)
  • 1/2 orange

For the crumble:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cold and cut into cubes

Crumble time:

This makes enough to fill one jelly roll pan (ostensibly; mine fell short a few inches, but it wasn’t a big deal), so grease one of those, or parchment paper it.  Whatever makes you happy.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.

Beat the butter all on its lonesome for about 3 minutes, or until it’s light and creamy.  Then, add the half cup of brown sugar, beating until fluffy.

Add the egg and beat until just combined before adding the flour mixture and beating until well-incorporated.

I had a bit of trouble getting everything to combine, so I just stuck my hands in there.

 

Press into your prepared pan with your fingers, spreading it evenly until it’s about 1/8 inch thin.

 

Combine the cinnamon and sugar together.  I added crystallized ginger chips because I could.

 

Spread the apples in an even layer on top of the dough.  Squeeze the orange half over them and then sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

Now, make the crumble.

Combine all the dry ingredients.  Then, add the butter.

 

Using your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until you’ve got coarse crumbs.

 

Add the crumble on top of the apples.

 

Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown and the apples are bubbling underneath.

 

When it cools down, you’ll be able to slice it into neat little bars, like so.

 

 

Okay, excellent, book recommendation time.  I read this book called A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers last night.  The whole thing, in one go, totally devoured.  It was that good, but also I had nothing else to do…

My favorite thing about this book is that it starts out in pretty broken English, told from the point of view of a young Chinese woman who comes to England to study English at her parents’ behest.  Her English gradually improves over the course of the book, which is unbelievably masterful on the part of the writer, Guo Xiaolu.  It’s quite a lovely little book, though the plot is so much a plot as a slow-budding character study that gradually unfurls across many chapters and with more and more mature English.  The effect of the character’s changing grasp of the language is really something to experience, and it’s quite beautiful.

Pumpkin Muffins

11 Nov

I have developed an amazing ability to avoid my most important research paper.  I have it sitting next to me with my professor’s appalling chicken scratch all over, and all the requisite documents open on my computer… and then I spent about five minutes looking out the window, five more writing e-mails, god knows how long reading China blogs…

I don’t know what it is about this paper.  I wish that whatever it is would stop.  My goodness.

But as part of my grand avoidance scheme, I am writing this post so it’s not all bad…  Maybe?

Can you believe that after this recipe I still have pumpkin purée left?  I am seriously running out of ideas that involve pumpkins.  I have moved on to other ingredients, scheming recipes with blackberries and chocolate and oranges and things.  Not good.

I got this recipe from Smitten Kitchen and messed with it just a tad.  So here you go.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • cinnamon-sugar for sprinkling over muffins
  • crystallized ginger chips for sprinkling (optional (but not really–these are so good, you should definitely buy some))

Recipe:

First, melt your butter.  Unless you have already.

 

That’s a lot of butter.  Don’t panic.

Mix everything except the cinnamon-sugar and crystallized ginger chips in a large bowl…

 

…until just combined.

 

Divide evenly among muffin tins (it should fill twelve easily) and fill tins 3/4 full.

 

Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar and ginger chips.

 

Bake for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees, or until puffed up and golden-brown.

 

Like so.  Delicious.

 

Also, how about those adorable halloween tins?  I have the absolute greatest collection of cupcakes tins thanks to my mom.  I kind of cupcake’d myself out, actually, which is why I’ve been making a lot of muffins lately.  Purely for these tins.

 

Okay, I did say I would talk about that book that I’ve sort of hyped up for a month or two, didn’t I?

Damn.

All right.  My reluctance comes from the fact that I have so much to say about this book and the circumstances surrounding it, but my book recommendations have grown out of control…

So I will keep this short.  The Man Who Stayed Behind.  This is a book you need to read.  Right now.  It’s by an American GI, Sidney Rittenberg, who went over to China at the tail end of World War II, stayed in the country, and became the only American member of the Chinese Communist Party.  He ended up, thanks to various political purges, going to prison twice for a total of sixteen years, all of which he spent in solitary confinement.  He was pretty close to the upper echelon of the Chinese government, having met Mao on many occasions, been friends Zhou Enlai, and getting tangled up pretty severely in Jiang Qing’s schemes.  He moved back to America after many, many years and now lives in… North Carolina?  In any case, I know about this book because Rittenberg was a lecturer at Chapel Hill for a little bit, and one of his students was my advisor.

Even if you’re not interested in China or Chinese history, you should read this because it’s fundamentally, I think, a story about idealism and wanting to change the world so badly that you get hopelessly tangled up in its problems.  What’s really amazing is that not once did Rittenberg really lose hope in communism and in the CCP.  Certainly some aspects of it, but he seemed to consistently believe that it could change the world for the better. And it’s also amazing to think that he spent 16 years in solitary and came out with his mind intact.

There’s also a documentary called The Revolutionary about him but I don’t know where it would be available.  I saw it at school, so you could check your local universities.

Stuffed Artichokes

11 Nov

I am obsessed with artichokes.  I have been since before I ever ate one purely for aesthetic reasons.  What a good-looking, interesting vegetable.  I especially love that they are one of the few edible things in the world that have hearts.

I love that.  Artichoke hearts.  How wonderful.

What is also wonderful is the supreme ease of this recipe.

From the Tucci cookbook yet again, adapted slightly because I had no cheese like a total loser.  (Why is cheese expensive???)  Also adapted slightly because I made two artichokes instead of four.

Ingredients:

  • Two artichokes with the stems and tops cut off, and the spiny bits on the end of the leaves snipped away
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 quarter red onion, chopped finely (you can use more or less depending on your onion fondness)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salsa (optional, but I find this taste really good dipped in salsa)

Recipe:

 

Stick your artichokes in a small pot and fill with water to 1/4 inch below the tops.  Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for about twenty minutes, or until a leaf pulls away easily. Don’t overcook them or they’ll fall apart.

In the meantime, mix the bread crumbs, onion, and garlic together.  If you want, you can mix in two tsp of grated cheese as well.  I didn’t have cheese.  I have some now, but it’s reserved specifically for kick-ass sandwiches so.

Take the artichokes out of the water and turn them upside down so they can drain.

When they’ve cooled down, sprinkle the crumb mixture by the teaspoonful into the leaves, spreading them slightly to get the bread-y goodness in there.

Drizzle the artichokes with a tablespoon of olive oil each before placing them in a pan with about 1 inch of water in it.  Cover them with tinfoil so they don’t char and bake for thirty minutes.

The book says to then check on them, add more water if necessary, and then bake again for fifteen minutes.  I found that the water was a little too much and made the bread crumbs in the outermost leaves a little soggy, so do what looks right to you regardless of what the recipe says.  When you take the artichokes out, they should be lightly browned.

 

 

I would recommend stuffing your chokes way more liberally than I did.  Mine were delicious, but seriously, go overboard.  This recipe can definitely take it.

 

And in the background, an upcoming recipe!  Hopefully soon, but I have no fewer than four final papers to write at the mo, three of which as serious research papers.

So you know.  Fingers crossed.

 

Can I just tell you, though, how happy I am that the election is over?  I am the first to admit that I became a huge election junkie for three long months… but I am so happy to go back to studying international relations.  I never thought I’d say it, but global politics is so much less stressful.  Go figure.

 

I swear to god, I will recommend this book I keep not-telling you about next time, but for now, you should definitely read A Pale View of the Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro.  This guy is the one responsible for Never Let Me Go, which traumatized me.  It was so beautiful. Because Ishiguro writes these horrible, sad stories about individual people who are victims of some even more horrible circumstance.

In this case, he writes about two woman living in Nagasaki (I think I think) in the weeks after the atom bomb was dropped.  The book will make you think about the atom bomb as an abstract concept and a historical event, and in that sense it is a commentary on nuclear weapons.  But… not really.  It is simply a story about these two women.  (In fact, it might be a story about one woman, with the point of view split between a past self and a present self.  I’ll let you figure that one out.)  Just like Never Let Me Go was about a life-long love triangle, the story was sharpened to greater poignancy by making the characters clones whose main purpose in life is to serve as organ donors.  The circumstances inform the power of the story, and the story provides an indirect commentary on some greater political, ethical theme.

It sounds complicated, I know.  You’ve probably noticed that I tend to read complicated books that I most often describe as “terrifying”.  It’s not a difficult read, though.  It’s a very short book, and I actually finished it in a couple of hours sitting in the library.  This recommendation got way longer than I intended it to be, so I will leave you with this for now.  Next time, muffins and more books about China.  Story of my life.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins with Peanut Butter Frosting

6 Nov

Are my titles getting longer?  Hmm…

Now, I don’t want to cause anyone any undue panic, but I have to tell you guys.

It’s November.

I know.  Wasn’t it just August?  I’m pretty sure I was hanging out in Grant Park listening to the orchestra and generally marinating myself in sunlight and leisure time yesterday.  Now I am wearing Under Armor in bed and writing three research papers. Also a novel.  Because it’s National Novel Writing Month.

November, man.  She can be a cold-hearted bitch, I’m telling you.  And the worst part is that I can’t decide if I’m happy to be on winter break soon, or sad that this quarter of school flew by so quickly. I just got the hang of this whole art history thing!  Don’t change it up on me!

Well, anyway, seasons change, months pass, days go by, summer evaporates into a vague mist in your memory, governments change…

So these muffins, right?  We had a ton of bananas in the fridge that were too ripe for Haley’s liking and for me to eat before they went bad, so I, quite logically, smashed them and baked them into muffins.  I think we can all agree that baked bananas are best bananas.  And even better best baked bananas are covered in peanut butter.

I got the muffin recipe from Sarah’s Cucina Bella, though she baked hers in jars, and the peanut butter frosting from Bon Appétit.

Ingredients:

For the muffins:

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • as many chocolate chips as you can handle in one muffin

For the frosting:

  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter (although if you want to try chunky….)
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 tsp vanilla

Recipe:

 

First, smash your bananas.

 

Fun fact: I misspel bananas every time I type it.  Goddamn.

 

Mmm… banana mush.

Beat together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  I know it’s tempting to beat until combined, because for the first 2 1/2 minutes the butter and sugar will look pretty much the same.  But when you wait that extra thirty seconds, it changes like magic into this smooth, fluffy delicious mixture.  Maybe you know better and you’re rolling your eyes right now… but there are people who don’t!

Add the egg and beat until combined.  Then, add the bananas, vanilla, and cinnamon.

 

Looks even more appetizing now, doesn’t it?  It’s okay, you can admit it: this is the most delicious thing you’ve ever seen.  I know.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.

 

Add this into the banana mixture gradually, until everything is just combined.  You don’t want to overbeat your muffins.  They will be weird and gross if you do.

 

Then stir in the chocolate chips…

 

So many chips.

 

Fill each cupcake/muffin tin 3/4 of the way up.  It should only make about ten muffins, so don’t panic if you don’t fill an entire muffin tray.

 

Bake at 350 degrees until they begin to brown ever so slightly and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  This took about 20 minutes, but be vigilant, as always.

While the Maillard goodness is happening in the oven, prepare the peanut butter.

 

Beat all the ingredients together.

 

(And try not to think about how you’re pouring peanut butter onto a stick of butter.  You will be too nauseated to enjoy this wonderful muffins if you do that.)

 

Done!

Wait for the muffins to cool.

 

And then frost and enjoy!

 

 

 

So a book recommendation… I suppose you just expect that these days.  I really want to recommend the book I’m reading, but it’s another Murakami, and that would be awkward at this point.

How about Brideshead Revisited?  I read that in 10th grade, and it has stuck with me ferociously ever since.  It’s one of my favorite books, and usually the title I give when asked my absolute favorite.  I know it sounds melodramatic to say it changed my life… but it kind of did.  Because if I hadn’t read it, there are a lot of things I would think about differently or not think about at all.  It taught me a lot, and it’s very special to me because I can identify with so many of the characters.

I know it has a reputation of being “chick lit”, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  It’s an intense book, and it’s as much about nostalgia, societal pressures, family expectations, martyrdom, Catholicism in England, and what it means to sacrifice people you love to an abstract idea like religion (…not literally) as it is about Friendship and Love and Betrayal (which is how people usually portray it).  It’s more about those first things, actually.  It’s excellent, anyway, and you should read it.  And then watch the BBC miniseries of it with Jeremy Irons, because it is A+.