Tuesday, December 29, 2009

it's all riding on breakfast

I was 22 the first time I managed to sleep through the night before Christmas. 

Sad, I know. 

When I was young, I would lay awake all night with ears perked, listening for the tell-tale sounds of Santa coming down the chimney.  Once I got a bit older, I would law awake all night, tossing and turning in eager anticipation of the presents that awaited me downstairs.  And when I got older still, I would lay awake willing myself to fall asleep, because I realized just how ridiculous it was for a college student to be sleepless the night before Christmas. 

Well, I'll tell you this.  After 22 years of lying awake for the long hours preceding Christmas, I've given a fair bit of thought to the very important matter of Christmas morning breakfast.  I think we can all agree that this is one of the more important breakfasts of the year (right alongside breakfast on the first day of school, and Easter breakfast).  Needless to say, a well-chosen and well-executed breakfast on any one of these days has the power to rocket your day towards the divine, while a haphazard and half-hearted breakfast can set a dismal tone for this most important of days.  Yes, in my opinion, a lot rides on breakfast.  But then again, I think a lot rides on lunch and dinner as well.  And snack.  Don't forget snack.

And the more I've thought about breakfast, the more I've come to realize that it's not the amount of time to prepare, or the amount of money spent, or the number of exotic animals and plants harvested that make or break the meal.  Rather, the breakfasts that really hit home for me are sometimes the simplest of all.

Take Christmas morning.  When I finally rolled out of bed at noon (I know, what an achievement!) I wandered downstairs to find my mom giving a few final stirs to a pot of berry compote simmering on the stove.  We sat down to steaming bowls of her oat-wheat porridge topped with fresh cream and berry compote.  If you're lacking inspiration on the breakfast front, I recommend you give this simple recipe a whirl.  It's immeasurably rich, bursting with brightness, and wholesome to the core. 

That's pretty good for a bowl of oatmeal.

My Mom's Oat-Wheat Christmas Day Breakfast Porridge

1 cup of rolled oats
1/4 cup rolled wheat berries (optional)
2.5 cups water (only 2 cups if there are no wheat berries)
pinch of salt

1.  Bring everything to a simmer, stirring constantly
2.  Let it simmer 5 minutes, stirring regularly, and then remove from heat
3.  Ladle into large breakfast bowls

Berry Compote
1 cup frozen berries (any kind you like) - we used wild blueberries and organic raspberries
1 tablespoon honey
citrus zest (optional)
a touch of water if necessary

1.  Bring everything to a simmer
2.  Cook just until berries are soft.  If you cook it too long, berries will taste jammy.
3.  Ladle on top of porridge
4.  Top everything with a generous splash of whole cream.  Don't even think about reaching for that skim milk.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

rolling with it

Do you have a life philosophy?  I'm not sure that I do, but if I did, it would probably be to allow myself to be swept along by any and all opportunities that cross my path.   This...shall we say...'pattern' has led me into some unusual situations over the years.  At age 8, I found myself taking African drumming lessons.  At age 12, I found myself enrolled in an experimental community-based junior high (where I met Kylie!).  At age 20, I found myself living with a family in Leon, Spain.  Last month, I found myself writing a cookbook for a local chef (whom I greatly admire).  And last Saturday, I found myself acting in a commercial for a bowling alley.

Yes, this post it about just rolling with it.

Perhaps I should explain.  A couple of weeks ago, I started a part-time job as a copy writer for an advertising/marketing agency.  It's been a totally awesome opportunity to write professionally and get into a whole new field, while still pursuing my culinary goals.  Last Friday evening, I got a call from my colleague asking that I come in half an hour early the next day and wear a suit.  Because my reception wasn't great, I couldn't quite hear the reason for the change in routine, but figured that we likely just had a meeting and I needed to look respectable.  Wrong.  Oh, how very wrong.

When I arrived at work the next day, I was informed that we were picking up and heading to a commercial shoot down at a local bowling alley.  It wasn't until I was asked to come take my place between two of the actors that I realized I was actually to be in this commercial.  For those of you who know me, this is hilarious for three reasons: 1) I absolutely cannot act, 2) I absolutely cannot bowl, and 3) I avoid being in the spotlight as much as humanly possible.  So, between the three, I was virtually perfect for the part.  Looking back on the 6 hours of shooting, I'd have to say my favorite scenes are the one where I'm wolfing down a hot-wing and high-fiving my colleague, and the one where I bowl a strike and then jump up in the air giving a thumbs up.  If you guys really promise not to tell anyone, I may even post the link to the commercial on this blog.  But really, it'd have to be our little secret.  Will you promise to keep this between you and me?

In other news, I decided to make something totally new for dinner tonight.

Have you ever had a nut-based sauce?  I'm sure you have, as they're pretty common in Indian and Central/South American cuisine.  Somehow, North America seems to be a bit behind the curve in the area of creating delicious, rich, savory nut sauces.  Anyhow, after whipping up a batch of Deborah Madison's Walnut Sauce, I am 100% hooked.  It literally took all of 5 minutes to make.  Best of all, you control exactly how much to thin it out, so it can serve as a dip, drizzle or anywhere in between, depending on how much water you add.  I tried slathering it on some sauteed chicken and drizzling it over roasted vegetables, both of which were whoa-ho delicious.  I'm not playing around here folks.  Go get yourself a bag of walnuts.  Go on, I'll wait.

Now that I'm officially addicted to the rich, round flavors of nut based sauces, I want to hear from YOU.  Have you come across any awesome nut-based sauce recipes to share?  Well, come on now, I'd love to hear 'em!

Walnut Sauce
from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

3/4 cup walnuts
1 small garlic clove
salt and white pepper
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil

Step one:  Using a mortar and pestal or a food processor, process the nuts and garlic into a thick paste.
Step two:  Slowly work in the olive oil.
Step three:  Season with salt and freshly-cracked pepper to taste.
Step four:  Thin with boiling water until you reach the desired consistency (I used about 1/4 cup).

Easy as that.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

a return to vegetables

Eggplant Slices with Pomegranate, Yogurt and Tahini

If you've been reading Thin Crust Deep Dish lately, you might think that Adriana and I barely eat anything besides desserts, that we're always baking but never cooking. I've felt a bit like we were working on a baking blog instead of an all-food blog. This is partially true for Adriana. She's in the midst of her Baking and Pastry section in culinary school, and she churns out crusty breads and flaky doughs each night. I, on the other hand, have been doing a lot of roasting and sauteeing. It just seems that my more photogenic projects are always the sweets. Plus, my weeknight cooking rarely uses a recipe. We might roast some Brussels sprouts or a chicken with vegetables, or create impromptu tacos, but it's rarely something that seems worthy of showcasing for you.

I've been going out on limbs, though, with my cooking. I'm trying new things, and I want to share more with you. Earlier this week I made Heidi's garlic soup, which exceeded my expectations. Instead of sopping up the soup with a baguette, I toasted a slice of Ezekiel sprouted grain bread, slathered it in butter, and dipped. The resulting meal was satisfying and comforting.

The last time I was back in Seattle, I coaxed my mom into letting me borrow her copy of Arabesque, Claudia Roden's elegant book exploring the foods of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon. This is one of those cookbooks from which you want to cook everything. Each recipe contains spices and foods that I wouldn't have thought to combine on my own. This eggplant recipe is one of those. It is a wonderful, surprising combination of flavors. It's also a beautiful dish, one that I would love to serve at a dinner party or on a holiday. I'll attest that it tastes just as good served on a weeknight after you just got home from the gym.

Eggplant Slices with Pomegranate, Yogurt, and Tahini
(Batinjan Bil Rumman Wal Laban)
Adapted from Claudia Roden's Arabesque
Serves 6 to 8

The dressing of pomegranate molasses and vinegar gives the eggplant slices a sweet-and-sour flavor. Serve them hot or cold, with the yogurt and tahini topping at room temperature.

4 eggplants (about 2 1/2 pounds)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 Tbs. pomegranate molasses*
1 1/2 Tbs. red or white wine vinegar
2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 Tbs. tahini
1/4 cup pine nuts

Cut the eggplants, lengthwise or crosswise, into slices about 1/2 inch thick. Place them on an oiled sheet of foil or a Silpat on a baking sheet or tray. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place in a very hot oven preheated to 475 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes, until they are soft and browned, turning the slices over once. Arrange on a shallow serving dish.

Mix the pomegranate molasses*, vinegar, and 2 Tbs. olive oil, and brush the eggplant slices with the dressing. Beat the yogurt with the garlic and tahini and pour over the slices. Fry the pine nuts very briefly in 1/2 Tbs. olive oil, stirring to brown them very lightly all over (be very careful not to burn the pine nuts), and sprinkle over the yogurt.

Variation: Sprinkle the dish with the pink seeds of a fresh pomegranate in addition to the pine nuts.


*You can find pomegranate molasses at Middle Eastern markets and upscale gourmet shops. If you don't have any (as I did not), you can replace it with the juice of half a lemon whisked with 1 tsp. of honey. I thought it worked excellently with this substitution.

Monday, December 7, 2009

yes, I'm celebrating

Today most desserts are much smaller,
But my entry needs to be baller,
I know what I'll bake!
A big Malt Ball Cake!
And I'll win because mine is much taller.

Yes, what you see there is my rather sorry attempt at a competitive limerick.  What's a competitive limerick you might ask?  Well, long story short, it's what you write when you've challenged a room full of friends to a cooking/limerick writing competition.  The rules are simple:  submit any dish you please for judgment alongside a limerick which includes the name of the dish.  All limerick-less entries will be disqualified.  Er, would you be surprised if I told you I won a poetry contest when I was in 2nd grade?

If you've never hosted a Competitive-Cooking-and-Limerick-Writing-themed holiday party, I suggest that you consider it.  This past Sunday, my buddy Hillary and I threw a soiree in my rather small Wicker Park apartment, and holy heck did we have a good time.  There were people from all over our chaotic lives: culinary students, medical students, boyfriends, wives, toddlers, former roommates, and friends of friends of friends.  And each brought a dish/limerick to share with all (and to compete for the super secret prize that was awarded at the end of the night). 

The competition was as stiff as well-beaten egg whites.  Gustavo brought chewy Brazilian birthday confections, while Tony assembled bite-sized Thai chicken curry cups.  Will unwrapped an entire smoked leg of lamb, and David baked off a swiss cheese, caramelized onion and fig pizza.  But I thought I would share the two winning entries with you since they were just so gosh darned tasty.  In first place came Hillary herself, with a Sweet Corn Spoonbread Topped with Spicy Carne Asada, and in second place came my darling man-slice with Chocolate Peanut Butter Malt Shooters.  I'd say at least 95% of us finished the evening with quite a belly ache.

And then there was my entry.  I chose to make a three layered Malt Ball Cake because I was celebrating.  Yes, celebrating.  Celebrating the fact that my dear friend Kylie is engaged to the love of her life.  Celebrating the fact that I only have 10 days left of work at my old job before starting off on my next professional adventure.  Celebrating the fact that I got a stage at my all-time favorite bakery.  Celebrating the fact that I finally finished a draft of that manuscript for the cookbook I'm ghost-writing (did I tell you I was hired to ghost write a cook book?).  Celebrating the fact that I was surrounded by a group of fascinating, wonderful people, eating delicious food, and brimming with excitement about the upcoming changes in my life.

Sorry to get all gushy on you.  I just feel like there's so much to celebrate.  Won't you have a slice and celebrate with me?

Malt Ball Cake
Recipe adapted from the cookbook Baked

2.25 cups cake flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1T baking powder
1t baking soda
3/4t salt
1/4t fresh nutmeg
1 cup malted milk powder
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening at room tempurature
2 cups sugar
1 T vanilla
2 cups ice cold water
4 large egg whites at room tempurature

8oz bittersweet chocolate
8 oz milk
1.5 cups heavy cream
2T light corn syrup
3 sticks butter, soft but cool cut into 1 in pieces
malt balls for decorating

1.       Preheat oven to 325F.  Butter three 8 in round cake pans.  Line each with parchment paper circle and butter the parchment.  Dust everything with flour and knock out excess
2.       Sift flours and other dry ingredients.  Whisk in malt powder.
3.       In mixer bowl with paddle attachment, beat butter and shortening on medium until creamy, 3-4 min.  Add sugar and vanilla and beat on medium until fluffy, about 3 min.
4.       Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture alternating with the ice water in three additions beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Scrape down the bowl and mix on low speed for a few more seconds.
5.       In medium bowl, whisk egg whites until soft peaks form.  Gently fold into the batter.  Divide batter among the prepared pans and smooth tops.  Bake for 40-50 min. until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Transfer cakes to wire rank and let cool for 20 min.  Invert cakes onto rack, remove pans and let cool completely.  Remove parchment.  If you want to make your cakes ahead of time, this is when you would wrap each cake well in plastic and freeze.

1.       Chop both chocolates finely, put in mixer bowl.
2.       Bring cream and corn syrup to a boil, then pour directly over chocolate.  Let stand for 3 min, and whisk cream in.  Let mixture rest until it returns to room temperature
3.       In mixer bowl with whisk on medium speed, gradually add butter pieces and mix until thoroughly incorporated.  Frosting should be completely smooth and silky.
4.       Refrigerate frosting until it is thick enough not to be drippy.

1.       Layer each cake on top of one another with just under 1 cup of frosting spread between each layer.
2.       Coat outside of cake in a thin layer of frosting.  Chill cake until frosting is slightly set, and frost again with remaining frosting.  Garnish with malt balls.


Thursday, December 3, 2009


Puget Sound Clouds

I first saw her on the bus. Heading to the dorm downtown, I sat in the front section of the bus, that part that faces the other riders across the aisle. She was wearing a fuzzy white American Eagle sweatshirt with a pink logo. She smiled a lot and talked excitedly to her friend. I was in love, unquestionably.

That night I called my friends. "I just saw the love of my life." I hadn't spoken to her, had been too shy. But I knew somehow that this was love.

Six months later, over spring break, I couldn't sleep. I stayed up late checking my Facebook messages. Someone I didn't know had invited me to join their group (this was in the olden days when Facebook groups were still new and novel). The group's name? Ellen Degeneres Rocks My Socks Off. While I wasn't sure the point of this group or why I had been invited to join it, Ellen Degeneres did, in fact, rock my socks off with her good-natured humor. I joined.

Browsing through the short list of other group members, my breath caught momentarily. There she was again, staring back at me from a thumbnail photo on the screen. Those same engaging eyes, the confident poise.

I had missed one chance, and I wasn't about to miss the second. I messaged her. Over Facebook. I messaged my love-at-first-sight over Facebook. I tried to sound witty. And not crazy. Less like a stalker than I felt. I tried to make it funny. If she was the person her eyes told me she was, she would understand.

I got a message back the next day. She remembered me. Six months later, having simply sat across from me on a bus, she remembered me. She was amused by my attempts at witticism. She returned with funny quips of her own. I read her words, and I jumped up and down. In my dorm room, by myself, having just returned from a run across the Brooklyn Bridge, I sweatily jumped up and down in pure, unbridled joy.

I invited her to eat hummus with me on MacDougal street. Later, I found out that she had no idea what hummus was. We were both too nervous to eat much anyway. We walked around the East Village, falling deeper.

Over the next five years, we helped each other with papers. We cooked first meals for one another, and we introduced each other to friends and family. She moved me in and out of dorms. We flew back and forth across the country visiting each other. I took her on her first trip outside the U.S., and she took me to loads of Long Island weddings. We played pick-up sticks at first, then had Cranium parties. Finally, she introduced me to the speed Monopoly her family plays, and taught me chess. We bickered and laughed. Oh, goodness, did we laugh. More than I had laughed in all my life.

And then, last Saturday, with the Christmas tree up and carols playing in the background, she asked me to get hitched. To celebrate with her and invite the people we love to share our joy. I said yes. Unequivocally yes. Yes from here to infinity and back.

And so we'll celebrate. We'll keep on living our lives, laughing all the while, and we'll celebrate it all in a couple of years. At some point, we'll go to Massachusetts, or Connecticut, or wherever it's still legal, and get a government certificate. There's no rush. We have our lifetimes to keep on laughing, living joyfully and with abandon.


Kylie and Mary

*So many thanks to Adriana, and all the other friends and family who have supported us and shared our excitement these past few days. It means more to me (and to Mary) than you know.

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Adriana Willsie and Kylie Springman ©2009