Wednesday, December 31, 2008

For Light and Fluffy Waffles, Under Mixing is the Ticket

Under mixing is a lesson you'll only ever learn from a pastry chef. I've spoken before about being gentle with cake batters and other bakery items where flour is involved. Most items produced in the sweet kitchen are delicate. Flaky. Crumbly. How do you make such a flaky crust? Under mix the butter into the pie dough. How do you make delicate scones? Don't over mix the buttermilk into the dry ingredients. How do you make a light and fluffy pancakes and waffles? You see where this is going.

Pie dough and waffle batter are the extremes in this rule. Pie dough and waffle batter should be riddled with blobs of butter and egg whites, respectively. Next time you're making either, resist the urge to mix thoroughly. Your waffles will be lighter than air.

Here's a photo of ready to cook waffle batter. The whites were added with just a few turns of a large spatula. Somehow, when the waffles cook, the clumps of whites take care of themselves.

Buttermilk Waffles
Print recipe only here

Makes 5 waffles

2 cups AP flour
1 T sugar
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/4 t baking soda
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
4 T canola oil
2 eggs, separated

Preheat waffle iron.

Sift together dry ingredients.

Separate eggs, cracking egg whites into a medium mixing bowl and reserving.

Measure out buttermilk and canola oil and add egg yolks, whisking well to combine.

Whisk egg whites until solid white and foamy - they should be loose and not peak-forming.

Add liquid to dry ingredients and combine with a few swift strokes. The batter should be lumpy and mostly - but not too thoroughly - combined. Dump the egg whites on top and combine in the same manner with about 5 or 6 total folds. The egg whites should be evident in the mixture.

Cook 1 scant cup batter on hot iron per manufacturer's instructions or until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately or cool on a wire rack if you have too many and want to freeze some. Allow them to cool completely on the rack, then transfer to a one-gallon Ziploc storage bag.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Oh, joy! I got a new woodpecker for my camera!

Rosemary Raisin Bread, pictured above, is a winter favorite of mine. We used to make it at Campagne for service in the Cafe. We served it toasted with apricot jam, which I still enjoy. I'm partial to Bonne Maman preserves. The goods are great and the empty jars are useful around the kitchen. One lives near my stovetop as a kosher salt cellar.

I often gift these loaves at Christmastime, usually with a pot of preserves too. The loaf above made it out to New York, stashed in my checked baggage alongside three dense chocolate tortes for my dad's birthday party. Good thing TSA didn't get the munchies.

A special thanks to Grandma Doris for noticing some missing information on the recipe. How cool that my Grandma not only reads my blog, but cooks from it?!? I added baking times to the recipe link for clarification.

I'm back home now, psyched to play with my new camera and make another round of Christmas cookies. Christmas baking was limited this year because I got strep throat right before Christmas. Upside of getting strep throat: made me feel like a kid again. A whiny, feeling oh-so-sorry-for-herself because she had to miss the cookie exchanges and Third Annual Peninsula Chocolate Bar Extravaganza, kind of kid, but a kid just the same.

Anyway, home, psyched and strep-free, I'm also really looking forward to overusing my annual Trading Places greeting of Happy New Year! over the next few days. Hope yours is especially merry.

Read Full Post

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nuts: The holiday slow food

The New York Times sort of beat me to it on this post. I scribbled a post on nuts in early December and forgot about it until reading this.

Ah well.

My take on nuts goes more with the gorgeous photo they ran, shown here at left (now is a good time to credit the photo to Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times). But where the Times delved into the health benefits of nuts, my thoughts were on the old world/slow food beauty of the nut still in its shell.

We always have nuts around. Of the already-been-shelled variety, almonds, plain and smoked, and peanuts (GORP is a favorite household snack) are in steady supply. There's always a small tin of nuts in my glove box. A handful of nuts has gotten my children (by “my children” I mean me) through many an episode of food anxiety.*

In the summer we eat a lot of peanuts in the shell - either at Wrigley or at home watching the game on WGN. Sunflower seeds, also in the shell, are a summer snack when we’re camping or on a road trip. But it’s the holiday nuts that I get really excited about. Each year, right around November 1, I pull down a pewter challis from its perch on the shelf above my cookbooks and fill it with mixed nuts - walnuts, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, and brazil nuts - all in their pretty shells. We have a growing fleet of nutcrackers. My favorite is a wooden screw turning one that I got my daughter out of a Montessori catalog.

Maybe it’s the excitement of the season, but something about cracking my own nuts and enjoying no more than five or six of them in one sitting makes for a delightful seasonal tradition. And this is what slow food is really all about - slowing down, enjoying our food more. It’s not about munching a handful of nuts between frenzied errands around town. And yes, by "munching" I meant "shoveling into one's mouth."

Slow down this season. Enjoy your food, whatever it may be.

*food anxiety - [food ang-zahy-i-tee] -noun
1. Distress or psychic tension caused by fear of one’s next meal not coming quickly enough.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fave Five Christmas Cookies

Rugelach, Cornmeal and Russian Tea Cakes (a/k/a Mexican Wedding Cakes)

I made three of my favorite Christmas cookie doughs yesterday: Rugelach, Russian Tea Cookies, and Cornmeal Cookies. Amaretti and Press/Cutout Cookies will be made and baked off tomorrow, in time for the back to back cookie exchanges I plan to attend on Thursday.

What I appreciate about these recipes is the variety when all are on a plate. Also, there are enough choices about fillings and what nuts to use that make it fun each year. I traditionally use hazelnuts in my Russian Tea Cakes. Hazelnuts are so rich and flavorful but don't make enough appearances outside of the Pinch kitchen. This cookie is a great way to use them. This year, however, I opted for pecans, just to switch things around a bit.

Rugelach is a hard one to pick a filling for because I like them all so much. The recipe I use makes a ton of cookies out of the four logs. I plan to use all four fillings this year - a log of each. I might even try the Barefoot Contessa's recipe. It's not much different from my own - mainly she calls for rolling the cookie dough into a round, filling, cutting the round into wedges and rolling them up like a crescent. My good friend Jessica makes these and they're way prettier than my own log style ones, if only a bit more labor intensive.

The Amaretti and Cornmeal Cookie recipes are courtesy of my sister. They are both such perfect additions to the cookie plate and original ones, too. I made press cookies because they're so kid friendly (my daughters decorate sheet pan after sheet pan of them with their friends each year before Christmas), but my tastes are more for the less sweet Amaretti and the enticing piñoli-topped Cornmeal Cookie.

What are you baking this year?

Read Full Post

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Biblically Good Gingerbread

Soft gingerbread cake, looking very much like it was Photoshopped in, but it wasn't.

A guy I knew in college surprised us all, as we peeled back the layers and got to know him better, to be a bit of a downer. Like Eeyore - always thinking it was going to rain and don't-you-feel-so-sorry-for-me-because-of-it, kind of a person. Everyone knows someone like this. Recently, I surprised myself as a downer when I found myself telling my sister how awful her freshly baked gingerbread was going to be (we were on the phone as she was pulling it out of the oven).

I’ve been tinkering with my gingerbread recipe for years. At one point it was perfect. But when I rewrote it for high altitude I misplaced the original recipe. When I spoke with my sister I was still working out kinks in my recipe and had recently made a gingerbread using the exact recipe she used*. It was really disappointing - not that it in any way excuses my big mouth. Beth seems to have forgiven my pessimism. Today's post is an olive branch, a promise to never rain on inferior gingerbread. Oops! I did it again...Well, at least I'm offering the recipe for what is, in my estimation, the best gingerbread, ever.

I’m so pleased to have Gingerbread back in my baking rotation, and to offer it here. It is the best thing, ever. It’s a fabulous tea cake, and a wonderful light dessert served with low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt.

Gingerbread Bundt Cake
Print recipe only here

Makes one 12-cup bundt cake
Preheat oven to 350°

Spray a 12-cup bundt pan with canola spray.

Sift and add to the bowl of a stand mixer (fitted with paddle attachment):
3 1/3 cups flour
2 ½ t baking powder
1 ½ t salt
1 T ginger
1 ½ t cinnamon
1 cup sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup molasses
Slowly add:
¾ cup plus 2 T canola oil
1 cup boiling water

Mix thoroughly, scraping sides and bottom.

Transfer batter to the prepared pan and bake about 40-50 minutes. The cake will be darker, firm and pull from the sides when it is done. Let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate.

Keeps well, covered, at room temperature, for 4-5 days.

* For the curious, the *bad gingerbread recipe* was the Soft Gingerbread from the otherwise praise-worthy Fannie Farmer Baking Book.

Read Full Post

Monday, December 8, 2008

Baking 101: High Altitude Baking

Nigella Lawson once commented that baking is easier than cooking because a baker just follows a recipe. Nigella never moved to a town 10,000 feet above sea level and had to rewrite the contents of her baking cookbook. Having done exactly that I could claim the opposite to be true; writing a entrée recipe, from scratch, is much easier than writing a dessert recipe. The baker’s science has to be spot on for the end result to look and taste perfect. I wouldn’t make that claim, though. No good can come from pitting egocentric cooks against each other.

To build confidence as a high altitude baker one must understand the science behind leavening and the effect altitude has on the internal structure of baked goods. Once that lesson is learned, the baker must adjust each recipe, testing and retesting until it works. Some recipes are easier to adjust. I never mastered Sponge Cake at altitude. Sponge Cake achieves it loft from a balance of air and leavening, two variables greatly affected by altitude. I learned to appreciate denser yellow cakes during my mountain years.

The science
Higher elevation means lower air pressure. Lower pressure causes water to boil at lower temperatures. Water comes to a boil in less time, so it takes longer to cook everything you boil. For example, at sea level I make 11-minute hard boiled eggs. To achieve the same egg
at 10,000 feet, I boiled them for 17 minutes.

At high altitude (anything over 3,000 feet) baked goods rise faster. Liquids evaporate faster so flavors and sugar become more concentrated. When the sugar ratio is out of proportion, cakes don’t set. The middles are gooey and the cake lacks structure. Air bubbles rise faster so cakes rise fast and high only to fall because of the last of structure inside.

The solutions
1. Decrease sugar - start by removing 2-3 T from a recipe and see how it responds. I routinely reduce sugar by 25% when trying a new recipe, so don’t worry about overdoing it.

2. Decrease leavening -baking powder or baking soda - by a ¼ to ½ teaspoon.

3. Increasing flour by 2-3 T helps reinforce structure and balance sugar/protein ratio.

4. Increase liquids - an extra egg yolk goes a long way. Butter, eggs, and sour cream all count as liquids. Start with an extra ¼ cup.

5. Don’t overbeat anything, especially eggs. Beating adds air, and adding pesky air bubbles creates rising problems. When a recipe calls for whisking egg whites to a soft peak, only whisk them until they are fully white but not quite strong enough to hold a peak.

6. Increase baking temperature 25° F. A faster cooking time will help prevent cakes from rising too high.

7. Use only pure ingredients, extracts and flavorings. I only advocate pure extracts, but it's absolutely critical that you don't use imitations at altitude since flavors are more concentrated at altitude. Use the best extracts available.

8. Bundt cake pans are much more forgiving cake pans at altitude. Never pass up the opportunity to use one. Cakes made in bundt pans also tend to be more dense and have lower rates of collapse.

9. Cookies rarely need recipe adjustments. It is critical to chill cookie dough prior to baking. Also increase oven temperature as described above.

The Conclusion
Taking any cake recipe and applying the guidelines above will improve your chance of success. And when you fail, don't sweat it. A fallen cake can become a beautiful trifle.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Baking Without Butter: Pumpkin Bundt Cake

This cake was added on to the Thanksgiving menu at the eleventh hour at the insistence of my youngest daughter. Thank goodness! It's a great cake to have around. It was nibbled on by house guests over the weekend.

I made cupcakes out of the same batter last year, and frosted them with Cream Cheese Frosting. They were good, but this lighter cake was much more popular. Besides, what good is it to bake without butter and then slather the finished cake with butter, cream cheese and sugar?

The recipe came from a 1997 issue of Food & Wine which I clipped and stored in my cookbook (my cookbook is a binder filled with page protectors). I've only tinkered with it slightly.

Years ago, at the request of a client in Telluride, I made a pumpkin by baking two bundt cakes and inverting one on top of the other, with a layer of frosting in between. For a stem, I inserted an upside down cupcake in the hole on the top cake. I frosted the orb with orange-tinted cream cheese frosting and the stem with green. It was a hit.

Pumpkin Bundt Cake
Print recipe only here

Makes one 12-cup bundt cake. Half the recipe makes 12 cupcakes or a 6-cup bundt.

Preheat oven to 350°

Spray a bundt pan or muffin tin with canola spray.

Sift together:

* 3 1/3 cups flour
* 1 ½ t salt
* 1 t baking soda
* 1 t baking powder
* 1 T ginger
* 2 t cinnamon
* 1 t nutmeg
* ½ t cloves

In a mixing bowl, beat together (I use my stand mixer here):

* 2 ¾ cup sugar
* ¾ cup canola oil
* 4 eggs

Add and combine:

* One 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
* 2/3 cup warm water

Add the dry ingredients to the mixer and mix well, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl to incorporate thoroughly. Transfer to the pan and bake (about 25 minutes for cupcakes and about 50 minutes for the large bundt). The cake will be golden, firm and pull from the sides when it is done. Let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate.


I've waxed snarky on Rachel Ray in the past, but here's a recipe from her that is great: Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. My good friend Crissy fed me these and I loved every bite. Ray Ray calls for something called pumpkin pie spice which I don't buy. If you don't either, just substitute 1 ½ t ginger, 1 t cinnamon, ½ t nutmeg and a pinch of cloves.

Read Full Post

Monday, December 1, 2008

On Eating the Advent Calendar

I scampered out in the snow this morning to collect the Advent calendars my daughters expect annually. There's a piece of chocolate behind each door. Every morning they open the corresponding door on their respective calendar and get sweet treat. Sure, there's a good measure of holiday cheer involved, but let's be honest - there's chocolate. In the morning. Of course they're going to be excited about that. The calendar could herald the apocalypse and children would be just as jazzed. Oooh! I got one of the HORSEMEN!!!

[Katie dons a cashmere wrap, fixes a spot of Irish Breakfast tea and settles into an overstuffed chair.]

When I was a kid, we had an Advent calendar. Yes sir. One Advent calendar for us children. We shared it. And you know what? It didn't have chocolate inside. There were pictures behind each door. Just pictures. We were content to feast our eyes on the same pictures we'd seen, year after year. And you know what else? We were good and excited about opening the door each day on that sugar-free calendar. In fact, we fought about it - pushing and shoving to get to be the first one to the calendar each morning. Our mother put an end to that behavior by making us pick odd/even days and alternate every year, so I savored the treat of opening the double doors on Christmas Day biennially.

My children will be home from school shortly. They're not expecting the chocolate calendar. I already told them my childhood Advent calendar story and reported my plans to seek out a food-free one this year. They were so understanding about it that I decided right then and there to quit rumbling and get them the chocolate calendar they like so much. But I am going to keep an eye out for a nice keepsake Advent calendar to use this time next year.

How do you take your calendar?

Read Full Post

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pinch's Thanksgiving Menu

I have the privilege of cooking for a baker's dozen this year and I'm positively giddy about it. Prep starts tomorrow, with making pie dough, pumpkin and pecan pie fillings, pâte sucrée, roasting butternut squash, poaching pears, and salting the turkey on my to do list. Thanksgiving chez Pinch is taking a village to pull off; borrowed items (tables, chairs, extra flatware) are coming in from all over town. I've never hosted a Bring Your Own Fork event. It will be merry, for sure.

Thanksgiving Menu

To Start
House Salad with Pomegranate Seeds and Pear
Scallops with Butternut Squash Puree

The Dinner
Salted Roast Turkey with Gravy
Amazing Vegetarian Stuffing
Cranberry Sauce
Mashed Potatoes
Spicy Sweet Potato Fries
Refrigerator Rolls or Rosemary Raisin Rolls
Green Beans with Shallots and Pancetta

The Dessert
Pumpkin Pie (This is the pie dough recipe. I honestly use the filling recipe from the Libby's can, substituting half and half for the canned milk.)
Pecan Pie (check back soon for this recipe)
Warm Vanilla Poached Pears with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce

Happy Thanksgiving.

Read Full Post

To Hell with Healthy Cheesecake

I borrowed the headline to my Dessert menu from Caitlin Flanagan. I enjoyed her essay collection/book To Hell With All That and it seemed a fitting title for a menu that completely breaks from the nutritional goals of the previous courses.

There are several desserts I make my family that fit into the Pinch eating guidelines (which limit saturated and other unhealthy fats): Vanilla Poached Pears, Chewy Ginger Cookies, Blackberry Cobbler, and Amaretti Cookies, to name a few. Others simply do not fit. They earn a spot on the menu because life includes feasts. Not daily feasts, perhaps not even weekly or monthly ones. But each year brings cause for celebration and I don't think it's possible to adequately celebrate without dessert.

Which brings us to Cheesecake. When I told my sister the ingredients on my favorite cheesecake recipe she couldn't believe I even made it. One pound of cream cheese, one pound of ricotta cheese, one pound of sour cream! Mercy.

We're entering a season of feasting. Enjoy it.

Print recipe only here


1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3 T flour
3 T cornstarch
2 eight-ounce packages Philadelphia cream cheese
15-ounces ricotta cheese
1 pint sour cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon
1 T vanilla extract

For the crust:
10 graham crackers or 1 1/2 cups crumbs
2 T sugar
1/3 cup melted unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 325°

Make the crust:
Butter a 9-inch springform pan.

Process graham crackers in a food processor until they are fine crumbs. Add sugar and pulse to combine. Add melted butter and pulse just to blend.

Empty crumbs into prepared pan and press onto bottom and up along sides. I use a measuring cup to press the crumbs into the edge of the pan. Refrigerate crust until ready to fill.

Make the cake filling:
Melt butter over low heat. Reserve.

Sift together flour and cornstarch and reserve.

Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add the ricotta and mix until smooth, about 3-4 minutes. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl to make sure the cream cheese is well-blended.

Add the sugar in three parts, over about a minute of mixing time. Stop mixer to scrape sides of bowl as necessary.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions.

Add the flour/constarch, vanilla, lemon juice and zest and mix well.

Add the melted butter and sour cream and mix just to combine, about 30 seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for one hour.

At the end of the hour, turn off the heat (without opening the oven door) and let cake sit another hour.

Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

An hour before serving, remove cake from fridge and disengage spring. Cake should release easily. If not, run a knife around the edge.

If you like, brush the surface with raspberry jam and top with raspberries or strawberries. You can make a light glaze for the berries by warming seedless jam with some sugar syrup and painting it on the tops of the berries.

**Read here for a good refresher on metabolism, energy imbalance and the relationship between muscle mass and weight loss.

Read Full Post

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Warm Goat Cheese on Mixed Greens

Remember the late 80s when every restaurant had a warm goat cheese salad on the menu? Neither do I. The late 80s held more SAT prep and college visits than California cuisine for me.

Dating myself here makes me feel so young! This is way better than last week when the report Footloose is 25 years old made me feel like a prune of a lady.

Baked goat cheese on greens has been on the menu at Berkeley's Chez Panisse since the restaurant opened it's doors in 1971. It's a salad I enjoy this time of year, paired with autumnal accompaniments like roasted beets, walnuts and pear.

Warm Goat Cheese on Mixed Greens
Print recipe only here

Serves 4


6 cups mixed greens
8 ounces goat cheese
¼ cup bread crumbs mixed with fresh herbs, salt and pepper

For the dressing:

5-6 T olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar
½ small clove garlic, pressed
Pinch salt
Pinch sugar
Freshly ground black pepper

Also Wik (Optional):

2 beets, roasted, peeled and sliced
1-2 ripe pears, quartered, cored and sliced
Roasted walnuts or pecans


Preheat toaster oven to 350°

In a small bowl combine breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and some chopped fresh herbs if you have them.

Portion goat cheese and flatten into a disc.

Coat the goat cheese rounds in breadcrumbs and place on a baking tray (or refrigerate for later use).

Bake for 10-12 minutes. If using nuts, roast them now for 3-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine dressing ingredients.

Peel and slice beets or pear.

Remove goat cheese rounds from oven and reserve.

Toss greens in dressing and portion evenly among four plates.

Add beet or pear slices to each plate and scatter roasted nuts.

Add the goat cheese to each plate and serve immediately.

Click here to see Alice Waters' recipe.

Read Full Post

Friday, November 7, 2008

Roasting on an Open Fire

This morning as Cold November Rain simultaneously fell and played on my iPhod I happily realized it won't be long until my mix of Holiday Classics takes to the home airwaves. It has been suggested to me that caroling is really only welcome between Thanksgiving and New Year's day. But it's November now. Soon Jack Frost will be nipping at my nose and I'll be cleared for caroling.

I love Christmas carols (the nose-nipping not so much). Christmas carols are the most appropriate way to express holiday cheer. Most carols, anyway. There's nothing appropriate about "Santa Baby," though love it I do.

If the market appearance of eggnog did not sufficiently herald the coming holiday season, then the availability of chestnuts at the market last week surely did. I nearly broke into yuletide song right there among the farmers.

I loved chestnuts as a kid. There was a chestnut tree on the property of the church and we used to huck the burr-encased nuts at each other after Sunday school. Good times. Back at home, my dad oven-roasted them (as far as I know he did not harvest them from the church grounds) and hooked me for life.

Scoring prior to roasting is absolutely essential. Even if they did not explode (the meat expands when roasted) they'd be impossible to peel (twice! Chestnuts have an inner and outer peel) without a starting place. I'm out of practice scoring and my knives are sorely in need of good sharpening so scoring was more difficult than I remembered. I ended up using a serrated utility knife and sawing a small X in each nut.

Roast them in a preheated oven at 350° for about 20 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so. Peel the inner and outer layers away to reveal the brainy-looking nut and enjoy.

Read Full Post

Where Do You Keep Your Cinnamon Sugar?

The kitchenware isle at Target has yielded a few of my favorite things. This morning's breakfast (oatmeal) reminded me of two such items: big glass storage jars, which are perfect for housing all the bulk items I lug home from Whole Foods (oats, rice, lentils, popcorn...) and my flip-cap cinnamon sugar dispenser.

Cinnamon sugar belongs in every pantry. In the Pinch kitchen it's used most frequently for crêpes. It's also dusted on sliced pears or apples for my children, or tossed into a fall fruit salad. Having cinnamon sugar ready-made and easily dispensed is a small convenience I greatly appreciate.

I've only had this dispenser for about two years. Up until its discovery in my Chicagoland Target, my cinnamon sugar was stashed in a recycled Horizon plain nonfat yogurt container. I can still picture the blue and white container, permanently stained with cinnamon.

Cinnamon sugar is a 4:1 sugar to cinnamon ratio. Make it 5:1 to tone it down a bit. But start with 4:1. You can always increase it.

Cinnamon Sugar

In a medium sized mixing bowl combine:
1 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup cinnamon

Whisk to combine. Pour into container for storage.

* The dispensers are also available at The Container Store.

Read Full Post

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Root, Root, Root for the Farmers

Look at this glorious produce! I nabbed all of it at the (now YEAR-ROUND!) Green City Market yesterday afternoon, while Chicago basked in civic pride and the sunshine of a harvest summer day.

We've been chomping the carrots whole. The cauliflower went into Cauliflower Curry in last nights Indian Feast. The beets are presently wrapped in foil, glistening with a bit of olive oil and roasting. And the celery root will be steamed and mashed with a Yukon Gold or two, making a great seasonal accompaniment to roast salmon with a Cabernet reduction for tomorrow's dinner.


Read Full Post

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Breaking Fast with an Egg Mess

Mark my words: If there's ever a Pinch Café the breakfast menu will feature one of my favorite morning meals: the Egg Mess.

The Egg Mess is awesome for all the right reasons. It’s simple, it’s delicious, and it’s healthy. The Egg Mess pictured here (made with two eggs and two pieces of toast) has 10 grams total fat, 22 grams of protein and 32 grams carbohydrate.*

The simplicity of the Egg Mess is that it requires few ingredients: eggs, toast and copious amounts of freshly ground pepper.

To keep it as healthy as the one shown here you need to use a sprouted sandwich bread and cook the eggs using a spritz of canola spray. The sprouted bread I love so much comes from Trader Joe's (their Sprouted Multi-Grain), but the original creator is Alvarado Street Bakery.

The level of difficulty depends on your ability to adequately toast bread and cook an egg. I’m not being glib: achieving well-toasted bread (not too dark or or it'll be too dry) and cooking eggs to anyone’s liking is not always simple. I like my Egg Mess with eggs cooked over-easy so the eggs saturate the toasted bread.

Want to give it a try?

Egg Mess
Print recipe only here

Serves 1

* 2 eggs
* 2 pieces sprouted multi-grain bread (Trader Joe's or Alvarado Street)
* Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat a small nonstick pan over a medium flame.

Lightly toast two slices of bread.

Spritz the hot pan with canola spray and crack eggs into pan. Sprinkle with salt and cook until set. Flip gently and cook another 30-60 seconds, depending on how soft you like your eggs.

Remove toast from toaster, tear into bite-sized pieces and put pieces in a cereal bowl.

Transfer cooked eggs to same bowl on top of toast and cut into bite-sizes pieces.

Add several turns of freshly ground pepper and combine the eggs and toast. Enjoy immediately.

*based on information provided from packaging:
1 egg: 4.5 gram total fat; 1.5 gram saturated fat; 6 grams protein; 1 gram carbohydrate
1 piece Trader Joe’s Sprouted Multi-Grain Bread: .5 gram total fat; 15 grams carbohydrate; 5 grams protein

Read Full Post

Friday, October 31, 2008

It's Baaaaack: The best seasonal addition to coffee

Many a coffee purist would shudder the thought of adding eggnog to coffee, but not this one.

I've loved the eggnog latte for years, since my days frequenting Monorail Espresso in the nation's espresso capital. No Portland, not you. Portland doesn't wait for Halloween to dress up as Seattle.

The eggnog latte is probably loaded with as many calories as one of those Dunkin' Donuts muffins I've heard tale of (700-plus, if memory serves). I don't want those calories to end up on my tail, so I steer clear of Starbucks this time of year.

But this, this most wonderful lowfat eggnog from the good folks at Horizon, fills the void. The best way to enjoy it is to pour an inch or so into your mug and zap it up in the microwave for 10 seconds or so. Then fill your mug the rest of the way with coffee. Yum. Oh, and don't add sugar - the eggnog is pretty sweet.

Eggnog lovers, rejoyce! It's eggnog season!

Happy Halloween.

Read Full Post

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Found: Best Coffee Beans in Chicago

I was a faithful Peetnik for years. But something changed several years ago and the product, while still good, is no longer excellent. The search for a better bean ended this summer when I found a local microroaster: Metropolis Coffee Company.

I have yet to visit the actual café since Metropolis is not located in a neighborhood I frequent. The beans are available at Whole Foods, Treasure Island and the Big Apple foods grocer on Clark at Fullterton. We regularly enjoy the Spice Island (at right) a dark roast, and the Cordillera, a medium roast.

Saveur Magazine had a nice shout-out to Chitown roasters in The Breakfast Issue. In 9 Great Coffees, two of the nine mentioned were Chicago-based, Metropolis and Intelligentsia. They also liked my old standby at Peets: Major Dickason's Blend. I was disappointed Saveur had no brotherly love for Philadelphia's La Colombe Torrefaction. Their Nizza roast is fantastic.

Read here to learn how I've been brewing Metropolis at home. It's all about the French press, baby.

Every city should be so lucky as to have their own skilled microroaster. Have you found yours?

Read Full Post

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cranberry Orange Tea Cake

When cranberries popped up at the market last week Cranberry Orange Tea Cake was inevitable. Plus, I wanted something lighter after the butter cake from last week. It's the oil-based (rather than butter based) cakes that we like so much in the Pinch kitchen.

I love this tea cake at the start of fall, with eggnog lattes on the horizon and brilliant oranges and reds coloring the arboreal landscape. It looks like autumn, doesn't it?

There's a short list of truly excellent tea breads and cakes that are just perfect this time of year. What else is on that list? Gingerbread. Rosemary Raisin Bread. Spice cake. Pumpkin cake.

I'll enjoy this last piece with some Irish Breakfast tea at teatime, as long as no one else beats me to it.

Cranberry Orange Tea Cake
Print recipe only here


2 cups flour
1 ½ t baking powder
½ t baking soda
½ t salt
¾ cup sugar
3 T canola oil
1 egg
¾ cup orange juice
Zest of one orange
1 cup cranberries, rinsed
½ cup toasted pecans or walnuts (optional)


Preheat oven to 350° F.

Spray a 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½ loaf pan with canola spray.

If using nuts, toast them on a baking sheet in the oven for 5-10 minutes until fragrant. Allow to cool.

Sift or whisk together dry ingredients.

Add to the bowl of a food processor the sugar, egg, oil, orange juice and zest and process to combine. If you don’t have a food processor, just whisk everything together in a mixing bowl.

Add cranberries and pulse a few times to roughly chop them up. If you’re not using the food processor, just roughly chop the cranberries by hand and add them to the liquid ingredients.

Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients, add nuts if you’re using them, and combine gently with a few swift strokes.

Pour the batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until it pulls away from the sides of the pan and passes the toothpick test.

Let cool at least 10 minutes before cutting.

Read Full Post

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Authentic Wonton Soup Made Simple

I just added Rasa Malaysia to my blogroll. The site does a fine job of writing authentic Asian recipes and food photography. If you'd like to expand your cooking repertoire to include Asian favorites it will be a big help.

I went to Rasa Malaysia recently to compare their Wonton Soup recipe to mine. By mine, I mean the recipe I adapted from Corinne Trang's Essentials of Asian Cuisine. Trang's wonton soup is light and simple and very familiar. Rasa's recipe adds fish sauce to the broth which I didn't think I'd enjoy, so I'm sticking with Trang. But do check out Rasa Malaysia, even only for the photography. It's mouthwatering.

Making Wonton Soup yesterday I was reminded how beholden I am to Imagine chicken broth. Their product is so delicate (it does require some simmering to embolden the flavor) and pure - like a great canvas. I always have several boxes on hand in my pantry.

Wonton Soup
Print recipe only here

Serves six


* 64 ounces chicken broth (I use Imagine Organic chicken broth)
* 2 t sesame oil, divided
* 2 t soy sauce
* ½ t corn starch
* 4 ounces shrimp, finely chopped
* 2 ounces lean ground pork
* 24 wonton wrappers
* 2 green onions
* Freshly ground white or black pepper

Bring stock and 1 t sesame oil to a gentle boil and simmer 20 minutes.

Combine shrimp, pork, 1 t sesame oil, cornstarch and soy sauce in a mixing bowl. Add a few turns of fresh ground pepper and mix well.


Have ready a small bowl of warm water to moisten wrappers.

Place a wrapper on your work surface and fill with 1 scant teaspoon of the shrimp/pork mixture.

Moisten fingers with warm water and paint the edge of the wrapper.

Fold the wrapper into a triangle, pressing out all the air.

Moisten the two side tips of the triangle and bring them together around the filled center of the wonton.

Place the finished wonton on a plate or tray and cover with a damp cloth. Fill all the wontons.

At this point you can freeze any wontons you won't be serving. Transfer them to a baking sheet, leaving space between them, and freeze overnite. The following day, transfer to a ziploc bag for longer storage.


When ready to serve, turn up the heat on soup to a more substantial boil and drop in 3-4 wontons per person. Add a few turns of freshly ground pepper.

Boil until the wontons float - about 3-4 minutes, and then serve.

Garnish with sliced green onions.

Read Full Post

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kentucky Butter Cake: A great tea cake for tea season

I love cakes like this one - pretty easy to produce and when it's done baking it's ready to go. Pair it with afternoon tea and you'll make whoever happens to be in your house at teatime (today it was a gaggle of girls) very happy.

Everyone should own a good bundt pan. I've got a 12-cup and a 6-cup one and think I might add a 10-cup to the fleet. This recipe, incidentally, calls for a 10-cup pan. I like my heavyweight ones from Nordic Ware, but regularly use lighter weight cake pans so don't sweat what you've got. The most critical thing is to really take care to thoroughly grease and flour the pan. And make sure to bonk the pan on the counter a few times to knock out all the excess flour. You won't be pleased to present a splotchy cake, even if your guests are oblivious minors.

A final note concerns the recipe's origin. My recipe is minimally adapted from the Baker's Cafe Cookbook. (The Baker's Cafe, of Katonah, NY, has been closed for several years.) A recipe search for Kentucky Butter Cake yielded many nearly identical recipes. The reason: the recipe won the Pillsbury Bake-Off contest in 1963 whereupon it became an instant classic and worked its way into many a recipe box.

Kentucky Butter Cake
Print recipe only here

Preheat oven to 350°

Grease and flour a 10-cup bundt pan.

Soften for 3-4 minutes in a mixer with paddle attachment:
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

Add slowly (about 2-4 T at a time, over about 8 minutes, scraping sides and bottom of bowl at least once between additions):
• 2 cups sugar

Add one at a time, mixing thoroughly between additions and scraping the bowl midway between additions:
• 4 eggs

• 2 t vanilla extract

Sift together and reserve:
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 t baking powder
• 1/2 t baking soda
• 1/2 t salt

Measure out and reserve:
• 1 cup buttermilk

Add the dry ingredients to the butter/eggs alternately with the liquid. (Scoop in about half the dry and mix on low speed until nearly incorporated, then pour in half the liquid, mixing in the same.) Repeat. Finish mixing by hand with a large spatula, carefully scraping up from the bottom of the mixing bowl and not over mixing.

Pour into prepared pan and bake about 50 minutes or until it pulls away from the sides of the pan and passes the toothpick test.

Toward the end of baking, prepare glaze (recipe below). When cake is done baking, pierce it all over with a long skewer (while the cake is still in the pan). Pour the hot glaze slowly over the top, allowing it to saturate the cake.

• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup unsalted butter
• 1-2 T Meyer's Dark rum
• 1T water

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. Swirl until butter is melted, but do not allow to boil. Pour over warm cake. Allow cake to sit for 20-30 minutes to cool, then invert onto a plate. Alternately, you can use half the glaze while the cake is in the pan and the remainder once you've inverted it. Anther nice touch: use a mesh tea immerser to dust with powdered sugar just prior to presentation.

The cake keeps well, loosely covered at room temperature, for 3-4 days.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Best Commercial Dilly Bean

Meet the best commercial dilly bean known to Pinch.

Hot and Spicy Pickled Crispy Beans have been a staple in the Pinch pantry for years. We first discovered them in Seattle when they were under the Hogue Farms label. Hogue Cellars, a Washington State winery, spun off the veggie business in 2002, selling it to the man who had been heading it up all along. So, same product, different label. And, bless us everyone, they are available nationally.

With the singular exception of trying to replicate Marija's Amazing Pickles, I don't put up veggies. I have great esteem for those who do. Nothing tops the goods from expert canners. Maybe someday I'll get my act together and put up my mom's green tomatoes, Marija's pickles and some spicy dilly beans. For the latter, a recipe via The Crispy Cook looks promising.

Until the genesis of Pinch Canned Goods, I'm with Jack; I'll trade my cow for these beans any day.


Read Full Post

Friday, October 17, 2008

Best Recipes for Fall

As much as I love (LOVE!) summer there's always a bit of excitement in the Pinch kitchen when a new season blows in. I've spent the last week enjoying hot tea and warm soups, and even have a batch of maple sugar cookies on the way.

I've also been writing more recipes and have added some seasonal favorites to the recipe catalog. Perusing my personal cookbook is like looking at old photos and recalling events in need of a sequel. Like going to Hawaii. Autumnal bliss only lasts so long. I'll be itching to get out of Dodge as soon as the Bitter Winter Ice Queen rears her ugly head.

Anyway, the trip down memory lane has allowed me to bring some foods back into rotation. Tortilla Soup and the always stupendous Flank Steak Sandwich are two items I haven't made recently. Fall foliage and temperatures always make Chili (shown above left) a warmly received dinner, all the better when the recipe has been pinched of unhealthy fats.

Other newly added recipes I highly recommend are Lentil Soup, a fantastic Chicken Soup with Rice and, for the adventurous shopper, Miso Soup.

Recipe reorganization within RECIPES & MENUS will help you find healthy meals for you to enjoy throughout the year. Happy soup season.

Read Full Post

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cobbler or Crunch: Biscuit vs. streusel toppings

My mom used to make this thing she called Apple Crunch. It was sort of a lazy apple pie. No crust, just sliced apples, kissed with lemon and cinnamon sugar, and topped with streusel. Baked until golden, Apple Crunch was a perfect combination of gooey apples and the crunchy oat streusel. Why don't I make this more often? Probably because of the buttery streusel.

The cobbler topping I've been making lately has a lower sugar and fat content than a streusel. Pictured at left is a peach and blueberry cobbler that I made recently. It was just incredible. Cutting down on added sugar and fat really lets the fruit be the star. I had some great peaches for this cobbler. I keep frozen blackberries on hand year-round so I can turn our a blackberry cobbler if we're in a must have dessert kind of a mood.

Berries and stone fruits go well with either streusel or biscuit toppings. It's only apples that demand streusel. Don't take my word for it - you decide. Fall fruits provide many possibilities.

To make an 8-inch square cobbler or crunch you will need about 6 cups of berries or sliced fruit. Add to the fruit the juice of one lemon, 1/4 cup of sugar (cinnamon sugar works well here) and a heaping tablespoon of flour. Toss well and taste. Add more sugar if necessary, but add it slowly. Let the sugar complement the fruit, not overshadow it.

Top with handfuls of streusel or scoops of sticky biscuit dough and bake until the fruit bubbles up and the top is richly golden.

Read Full Post

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sous Chef Wanted? On teaching kids to cook

I’ve recently extended the offer to my school-aged children to help out in the kitchen. When they’re older they might be in charge of making dinner on their own during the week and it’ll be better for everyone if they approach that task with some tools in their kit. Cooking is a safe way for a kid to have some of the autonomy they want so desperately. And if they can be autonomous in the friendly confines of our kitchen everybody wins.

This isn’t a novel idea. The New York Times Well Blog recently published 6 Food Mistakes Parents Make. Kicking your kids out of the kitchen was the first mistake.

When I was a small child I was usually deposited in a playpen when my mother was cooking. Recently, my children and I happened upon a wooden playpen in an antiques shop. They had no idea what it was so I told them it was a box mothers put their children in. They still think I was making it all up. Like the majority of the coddled generation, my daughters hold inalienable their right to be stapled to me.

The playpen sighting made me question the necessity of culinary training for kids. This post is an attempt to answer this question: Is this business of teaching young children to cook just another example of the ways contemporary parents over-schedule our children? Is it yet another activity we thrust upon our children when what they really need is time for free play and opportunities to entertain themselves?

I welcome your comments to help me sort through the following thoughts:

Evidence it teaches independence
Teaching kids to cook is important because they learn skills that will be useful later. The 6 Mistakes author writes, "Studies suggest that involving children in meal preparation is an important first step in getting them to try new foods." Children also enjoy the opportunity for one-on-one parent interaction (the cook in charge only wants one sous chef to train at a time). It can provide a time to rehash the events of the day.

Evidence it’s just One More Thing
Remember the line from Free to be You and Me? "Some kind of help is the kind of help we all can do without?" The very fact that children are present in a household makes dinner preparation a very rushed time. The 4-5 hour window between when school lets out and when children need to be ushered up to bed is jammed with homework, after school activities, play dates and bathing. Lengthening dinner prep to accommodate culinary lessons means taking time away from those other things, most of which we’re rushing though already. Today's children are overexposed to activity. Let's give them some down time.

Evidence our mothers knew best
Remember being a newlywed, cooking as a couple? There was peace and quiet and a glass of wine. No one cried if they bonked their head and no one needed love and affection from her mommy right when the risotto needed another ladleful of broth and a good stir. Our mothers remembered, and wisely deposited us in the playpen where at least they could tend to the risotto without tripping over us.

Evidence I just don’t want to share cooking responsibilities
I’ve long been accused of hoarding all the fun cooking tasks and delegating the grunt work. After reading “He Cooks. She Stews. It’s Love.” in the New York Times I accepted the Alpha cook label. I found I was not alone in my habit of prone to giving kitchen helpers menial kitchen tasks like rinsing chicken breasts, emptying the garbage, or washing a pot so I can reuse it.

From the story:

“This, of course, is the way it works in restaurants, where the chef’s authority is nearly absolute. It is somebody else’s job to peel the carrots. And that person is expected to peel the carrots without muttering bitterly under his breath. The top-down system helps to avoid chaos, speeds the process and enforces quality control. But at home that same system can have emotional consequences.”

It’s hard to resist the urge to give my youngest a carrot and have her peel it for me to eat instead of actually doing something critical for the night’s dinner. My oldest, at nine, fully appreciates the inherent condescension of this task.

Everybody wins if I loosen my grip on the kitchen. My first attempt at training a sous chef ended up with my youngest in tears after learning how to cut an onion (the onion made her cry, not me). I should have started her off with an easier task. Our sophomore try will take place on a weekend night when we have more time. And I’ll chose an onion-free menu.

Read Full Post

Sunday, October 5, 2008

All the News That's Fit to Pinch

Pinch is pleased to announce the addition of a new feature. The content aggregated in PINCHED NEWS contributes to the dialog on food/diet/nutrition we love so much.

When we’re lucky, it also provides the chance to giggle at the news. As in the NY Times magazine piece “Losing the Weight Stigma,” where we are informed:

“Linda Bacon, a nutritionist and physiologist at the University of California at Davis…advocates tossing out the bathroom scale and loving your body no matter what it weighs.”

...and CHANGING YOUR SURNAME TO BACON. They didn’t mention her given name was Linda Lentil.

Seriously. Linda BACON? You can't make this stuff up.

Happy reading.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Loving Kick Butt Peppers Lots of Ways

Frances is one of my all-time favorite characters from a children's book. She is a young badger who finds herself in many common childhood predicaments - being a picky eater, being taken advantage of by a friend, not being able to fall asleep at night. She usually learns a lesson - eating different foods is nice, my job is to sleep, a sister can be a friend - and she always sings a simple song to complement the story.

In Bread and Jam for Frances, Frances sings a cheerful dirge to eggs:

I do not like the way you slide,
I do not like your soft inside,
I do not like you lots of ways,
And I could do for many days
Without eggs.

I love how the song just ends - splat! - but I do not share Frances' opinions on eggs. I like eggs lots of ways. I especially love eggs with peppers or hot pepper sauce. Toast, a great neighborhood breakfast spot, makes killer Pepper Eggs with green, yellow and red peppers. Pepper Eggs are great on their own and even better after Sally Albrighting (here a verb) them to include jalapeño, the omission of which, given the name of the dish, is patently unforgivable.

Mama's Lil's Kick Butt Peppers have been a staple in the Pinch kitchen ever since my Seattle days when Son of Lil hand delivered jars to the cooks in a restaurant where I worked. They. Are. Awesome. On the advice of my co-workers I added them to scrambled eggs. Then Kick Butt Peppers made their way into pasta salads and turkey sandwiches. On the advice of Jessica, I'm going to try them in tuna. To quote another beloved children's book:

Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and you may, I say!

Read Full Post

Monday, September 29, 2008

I Picked Them Apples

Gala, McIntosh , Golden Delicious and Jubilee Fuji

Our annual Indiana apple picking extravaganza was later than usual this year and we missed the Honeycrisp apple picking season. The apples we brought home were consolation enough. Plus, they're still available further north. Honeycrisp season extends into October in northern Michigan, Wisconsin and its native Minnesota and several farmers are still bringing them to market in Chicago.

For those unacquainted with the variety, the Honeycrisp is a product of cross-breeding the Macoun and Honeygold varieties. The coupling produces an apple that is notably crisp and simultaneously sweet and tart. Also, there's less shedding.

So what are we going to do with them apples? Most of them will be eaten whole or with peanut butter. But a few lucky ones will be braised with cider and cinnamon and heaped on tomorrow morning's oatmeal. Mmm.

Read Full Post

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Kids Like Stickers

Sometimes, I am terrified by what my children must think of me. My youngest rounded the corner recently to witness me popping balloons and stuffing them into the trash can. The look on her face showed horror and pity. Her inner monologue might have been, “What is WRONG with you?” followed by, “Poor mommy. She has no joy.”

It’s possible that I’ve become a party pooper. My policy on balloons is that unless they arrived via FTD from a relative to commemorate a birthday, balloons are welcome in our home for a period not to exceed 24 hours or until their helium dissipates sufficiently to cause them to lope about the house like Eeyore.

It’s also possible that you can empathize with me for having to step over balloons and their long, knotty ribbons and you’ve popped a few yourself.

The business of entertaining the things my kids appreciate with full enthusiasm is a tricky part of parenting. I’m convinced a large piece of staying relevant to growing children comes from taking an early and active interest in that which captivates theirs. That the answer to the interminable questions of young children: Do you want to play doll house with me? Do you want to read me a story? and, Do you want me to make you cookies in my Easy Bake oven? must always an unhesitating, absolute, and enthusiastic YES!

Thank goodness kids and adults are different. We rescue each other daily. My daughter is safer now that I’ve jettisoned the Easy Bake oven. (In my defense, ever since it was used it to bake a Moon Sand pie it’s been emitting noxious fumes.) My kids are a constant reminder to enjoy the moment and laugh at the forlorn balloon wandering the halls, looking for love. A world where children and adults were routinely captivated by the same things would be strange. KIDS LIKE STICKERS, reads the label on pediatric office stickers. No one would ever make this generalization on behalf of adults.

As my children grow we’ll cultivate family interests and our individual interests will overlap. There’s no guarantee that they’ll claim my hobbies as their own, but I look forward to questions like: Do you want to go for pedicures? Do you want to do ski Genevieve one more time and then go sit in the hot tub? and, Do you want to make popcorn, watch a movie and have a slumber party in the living room?

Later it will be: Do you want to pay for my master’s degree? Do you want to invest in my new company? and, Do you want to watch the kids for a week while we go to Hawaii? I know to expect these questions because we have asked the very same ones and had them answered with an enthusiastic YES! by my husband’s very generous parents and, you know, what goes around comes around.

Participating actively and enthusiastically in the lives of our children helps earn parents a permanent position in their lives. That’s what I want. That, and for all these friggen balloons to go away. Oh, and some cookies from the Easy Bake oven. Doh!

Read Full Post

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Falling into Potato Leek Soup

Rustic potato leek soup

It's fall and I'm sick. I'm, like, falling into my soup I'm so sick. Get it?

I'm sorry - that was so bad. I'll let the soup do the talking from here on.

I've lately been enjoying a rustic version of this classic (pictured above) which is achieved quite easily by not pureéing the soup. You get a chunky, hearty soup I really enjoy. For a more refined version, just pureé and strain - you'll end up with a velvet-smooth soup that's creamy without any added fat.

Potato Leek Soup
Print recipe only here

• 3-4 leeks, white part only, finely sliced
• one medium onion, finely chopped
• 4-5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, cubed
• 4 cups chicken broth (I like the 32-ounce packages of Imagine Organic chicken broth)

Prep leek, onion and potato. More specifically:

Leeks: trim off all the green and the tail end. Slice in half lengthwise and rinse. Restack and finely slice crosswise.

Potatoes: scrub and peel or leave unpeeled as you like. Cut into ½-inch cubes.

In a medium-large saucepan, heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the leek and onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes, until both are translucent. Add the potato and cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the broth and turn the heat up to high. Once it’s boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the potato is cooked thru. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

I like to prepare it up to this point earlier in the day, let it sit for a bit and then reheat at point of service. This allows the flavors to set a bit more. Serve now for a hearty, rustic soup.

For a more formal presentation, blend and strain the finished soup. Prior to blending you MUST allow the soup to cool to approximately room temperature first (if you blend hot soup the heat will cause it to explode out of your blender, burning you and making a mess of your kitchen).

Blend and strain through a medium hole chinois or mesh strainer. At point of service, adjust seasoning and reheat.

Adding a garnish makes it even more formal. At cooking school, where this recipe originated, we were taught to sauté long thin strips of leek, drain them on a paper towel and center them on a bowl of soup in a small heap.

Read Full Post

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Packing a Better Bagged Lunch

School lunch is an easy target for gross violation of healthy eating standards. But what about the standard issue bagged lunch? What can parents pack their children that will be nutritious, sustainable, eaten and enjoyed?

Four or five things go into my kids’ lunchboxes:

1. A water bottle. Both kids now have stainless steel water bottles ever since the BPA-leaching hysteria of polycarbonate bottles. In all truth, I think our old Nalgenes are just fine for daily use. The leaching centered over storage which is easily averted by tossing what comes home onto my houseplants. Am I mistaken?

2. A main course. This is usually a sandwich of sorts. I got my kids eating sprouted wheat bread when they first cut teeth so it's never been a source of complaint for them. And at 5 grams of protein per slice, a very nourishing lunch staple. On especially cold days they might take a thermos with pasta and some roasted chicken. I'd like to get them enjoying soups but they still don't. Other options are yogurt or a caesar salad, with cut romaine in a container along with some parmesan and slices of chicken breast, and a separate mini Tupperware pot of dressing and often croutons because, COME ON!! You gotta have croutons!

3. Fruit. It's often a whole pear or apple. Sometimes I cut up either one put it in a mini Tupperware container and sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar. Other times it's applesauce. My oldest loves cinnamon on her applesauce so I found her a little covered shaker at a camping supplies store and filled it with cinnamon.

4. Vegetable. Carrots. I'm not very ambitious here. Carrots get eaten and other stuff doesn't.

5. A treat. The treat doesn't go in every day but when it does it's either a couple of Hershey kisses, a few cookies (something from Whole Foods) or a freshly baked cookie, straight from the toaster oven.

Details please:
Waxed paper bags are available at Whole Foods and are good for sandwiches, cookies, chips. I admit to using the snack sized Ziploc bags for carrots. I could improve lunchbox sustainability by using containers or being better about reusing those plastic bags.

I buy sprouted sandwich bread at Trader Joes. I also really like the Alvarado Street sandwich bread available in the freezer at Whole Foods.

What are you packing in those lunchboxes that your children enjoy?

Read Full Post

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On the Importance of a Freshly Baked Cookie

There is no substitute. Yesterday's cookie is just not worth eating. All the love is lost. The folks at Nestle know this and have addressed it by packaging cookie dough in refrigerated tubs and rolls in supermarkets. All we have to do is take them out of the equation to produce fully homemade cookies (with no preservatives).

It’s elementary, dears. Just make a batch of your favorite cookie dough. Take half the dough and plop it only a long piece of plastic wrap. Wrap it up loosely and roll it into a log. Repeat with remaining cookie dough. I usually refrigerate one log and freeze the other. When you want a cookie, simply slice off a round of dough and bake in a preheated oven. I crank them out in my beloved toaster oven (where baking times are faster) and tuck them into my kids lunches.

Homemade Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Logs
Print recipe only here

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1 ½ cups AP flour
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
½ t salt
3 cups oats
1 cup chocolate chips

Cream butter in mixer with paddle attachment for 3-4 minutes. Add sugars and cream well for about five minutes, scraping bowl a couple of times. Add eggs one at a time, mixing in well between additions. Add vanilla.

Sift flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together. Add to butter and mix in slowly. Add oats and chocolate chips and mix just to combine.

Form into logs as described above and refrigerate or freeze. Bake for 6-8 minutes in a preheated 350° oven. Remove and cool to room temperature before wrapping or bagging.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Indoor S'mores. Seriously.

On account of bloodthirsty Midwestern bugs I’ve resolved not to go camping again in the summer. Campfires will have to wait until fall. Meanwhile, we've been getting our s’mores fix via the rosy glow of two electric heating elements in our toaster oven.

We discovered the way to a great indoor s’more a few summers ago after sampling my nephew’s efforts to produce the same. The key is to replicate the outdoor process: roast a marshmallow then slide the puffy, browned, oozy mass onto a graham cracker preloaded with squares of Hershey bar. Anyone with an oven can do it - preferably a toaster oven since less energy is required.

I don't disagree that the loss of ambiance is critical. Something about dodging smoke, the hunt for a good, long stick, and jockeying for space by the reddest embers makes a s'more taste even better. For those willing to forgo ambiance and kindling:

Indoor S’mores

Hershey bars
Graham crackers

Preheat oven to about 350° and place marshmallows on a tray. Roast for about 4-5 minutes, watching carefully after three minutes of roasting time. Once browned on top, flip the marshmallows over and brown the other side. You’ll notice the marshmallows deflate if not consumed quickly once roasted. Returning them to the oven will make them puff back up again. Just don’t ask me why; marshmallow science eludes me.

A big shout-out goes to Così, the flatbread chain, for offering indoor s’mores with a nod to danger. Così provides youngsters - any paying customer, really - with wooden skewers, a handful of marshmallows, a Hershey bar, and a flaming scoop of napalm jelly in a small cast iron pot. It’s all fun and games until someone hurls a flaming sugar wad into someone else’s eye (an easily imagined consequence of the hot disagreement over who got more of the Hershey bar). I can’t believe Così is allowed to do this. As long as they are, we’ll be sucking napalm fumes and gesticulating wildly with flaming marshmallow in hand about how AWESOME it is. Seriously.

Read Full Post

Monday, September 8, 2008

Yes You Can: Almond Croissants

Croissants are hard to make. You need loads of time, counter space, and expertise. And butter. No one really has any business trying them at home. That’s what great bakeries are for. Sadly, there’s a dearth of excellent pastry out there. And no item is more poorly done than the croissant.

I’ve discovered it’s possible to - in the immortal words of Kanye West - Make a Benz Outta that Datsun by turning a plain store bought croissant into a nearly homemade almond croissant. The croissants I used were from Costco. Surprisingly, these are better than most of what I’ve tasted at Chicago bakeries and cafés. They are sold by the dozen, natch, but this works well as the recipe calls for freezing them.

Make these the next time you’ve got lots of hungry people in your home in the morning. You will make them very happy. Here’s how:

Almond Croissants
Print recipe only here

For the filling:
• 1 dozen plain croissants, frozen
• 8 ounces almond paste
• 4 ounces butter
• 2 eggs
• 2 ounces almond meal (roughly
½ cup)
• 2 ounces flour (scant ½ cup)

• Simple syrup (½ cup water and ½ cup sugar, 2-3 strips of orange peel (just use a regular vegetable peeler) and a piece of vanilla bean if you have it. Bring to a boil and cook 4 minutes or until the sugar is dissolved.
• ½ cup sliced almonds, raw
• powdered sugar for dusting


1. Prep almond cream:
• In a mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter and almond paste together, 5 minutes.
• Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly between additions.
• Add almond meal and flour, and mix well, scraping the bottom of the bowl to ensure the butter is well incorporated.

2. Prep simple syrup, keeping warm.

3. Preheat oven to 300° convection or 350° standard.

4. Remove croissants from freezer and slice in half, crosswise.

5. Brush or squirt simple syrup on the inside of both halves.

6. Spread a layer of almond cream on the bottom of each croissant. Replace top half and spread a very thin layer of almond cream on the top half.

7. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and press on gently so they stick.

8. Transfer to a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until nicely golden, rotating pan halfway to ensure even color.

9. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Before serving, dust with powdered sugar (a mesh tea-immerser does this trick nicely).

Read Full Post

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

On Baking with Cocoa Powder

Two cocoas: Dutch-processed Valrhona at left and Guittard natural at right

My husband frequently points out that I make a lot of assumptions when telling someone how to make something. “It’s really easy…” is how I lead most lessons, only to lose my audience in a haze of terms like bain-marie, blind bake, and cartouche. Years spent in the commercial kitchen have caused me to make the mistake of assuming others cook with similar experience, equipment, ingredients and passion.

I began to appreciate his point this summer when I made a chocolate pound cake in someone else’s kitchen. What came out of the oven was not the same delicious cake I bake in the Pinch kitchen. It made me realize how my recipes could be received differently when prepared using different ingredients.

The critical difference between the Pinch Chocolate Pound Cake and its inferior impostor was the cocoa. I only use Valrhona cocoa. I’ve worked with several cocoas and have determined this one to have the best depth of flavor and the least bitterness of its peers. Valrhona cocoa is a Dutched powder with a rich color and excellent taste. I use it in everything - baked into cakes and dusted on brownies or truffles.

What does Dutched mean and does it matter?
Dutched cocoa is treated with alkaline which removes much of cocoa's natural acidity, rendering it nearly neutral. Some bakers believe that the Dutching process affects leavening. Recall the elementary school science fair volcano? Baking soda (a leavening agent) requires an acid to cause a reaction. The science is sound but I have yet to experience a loss of leavening when baking with Dutched powders.

What difference does quality make?
All the difference. Quality in chocolate is proportional to its percentage of cocoa butter. Grocery store cocoa powder contains 9-12% butterfat. Higher end products such as Scharffen Berger (a natural cocoa) and Valrhona contain 20-25% butterfat.

I made my chocolate pound cake three times with a three different qualities of cocoa: Valrhona, a mid-level Guittard natural cocoa (meaning not Dutched), and a low-end supermarket variety, also natural. The difference between the cakes was amazing. The cheapest cocoa made a chocolate colored cake that lacked flavor. The Guittard cake was quite good. The cake made with Valrhona cocoa knocked everyone’s socks off.

This is the classic problem for the home cook. As much as we try to emulate professionals and follow their recipes, much of the time we are not using the same quality ingredients.

What’s a home baker to do?
Cooking like a pro entails spending a lot more on your ingredients. Importers and specialty shops such as Sur la Table and Williams Sonoma are good sources, as is Amazon. If you'd like to up the ante a bit but don't need to have anyone's socks knocked off you need look no farther than your neighborhood grocery store. Droste cocoa (Dutch-processed) is widely available and gets universally good marks for flavor.

Read Full Post

Sunday, August 31, 2008

On the Supremacy of Kettle Corn

The first time I ate kettle corn was in Telluride, Colorado. It was at one of the town park concerts, possibly Widespread Panic, the year a monsoon hit about three songs into the first set causing flooding, the ruin of many a Birkenstock, and the cancellation of the show (WP generously entertained everyone with three sets and an encore the following night).

Anyway, the popcorn was awesome - with a perfect sweet and salty crust. I've been tinkering with it at home ever since and have settled on a recipe replicated all over the internets.

We've always had a dedicated popcorn pot (we also have an electric popper but I don't care much for the popcorn it produces). I got our present one at Target, I think. It's just a stainless steel stock pot - about 10 quarts. It's way bigger than we need it to be (look for something around 6 quarts if you decide to become a popcorn fanatic like me) but we REALLY like popcorn. I make regular stove top popcorn with just canola oil and a lot of salt (cover the bottom of the pot with oil, add about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of popcorn kernels, pop over medium/medium-high heat, dump into a large serving bowl and douse generously with table salt). But for a better treat, try this:

Kettle Corn
Print recipe only here

* 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
* 1/4 cup white sugar
* 1/4 cup canola oil
* 1 t salt

Have ready a serving bowl and two oven mitts or potholders. Add the sugar, salt and oil to a large pot (mine is a stainless steel stockpot that is used only for popping corn) and place over medium heat. When the sugar is dissolved (after 2 minutes or so) add the popcorn. When the popcorn begins to pop, begin to shake the pot without stopping until the popping slows (this prevents the sugar from burning). Once the popping has slowed remove from the heat and transfer kettle corn into serving bowl. Enjoy!

Read Full Post