Friday, February 20, 2015

Corn and Black Pepper Crackers + The Quintessential Cheese Plate

I never really think to make crackers. I had made them once long ago-- I must have been in high school. My mom had a Pampered Chef cookie press, and the only other recipe included in the box aside from sugar cookies, were cheddar spritzer crackers. They turned out similar to cheese straws, but for the amount of effort they took, I was largely underwhelmed.

Last week, though, I was gifted a goodie bag of cheese samples and other hors d'oeuvres fixings, by the good folks at Whole Foods P Street. That prompted my goal of creating THE QUINTESSENTIAL CHEESE PLATE, which I figured must surely include something homemade-- whether crackers, pickles, or preserves. I went the baked goods route (surprise, surprise), making Melissa Clark's Corn and Black Pepper Crackers. Essentially savory cookies--both soft and crispy, these could be easily adapted to include a variety of different nuts and seeds. I'd keep the black pepper, though-- it adds a great spice.

Along with including something homemade, here are my other suggestions for that perfect fromage spread. This is essentially the simplest of dishes-- you're basically setting the stage for others to create their own pairings. Of course cheese boards are ideal for party snacks and appetizers, but they're also great for a weekday meal that's super fast yet feels decadent.

• Cheese (obviously): I like a good variety-- soft and hard, mild and piquant. Some of my favorites pictured here: Sartori Balsamic Bellavitano (hard white), Neals Yard Dairy's Borough Stilton (soft blue), and Reserve UnieKaas Gouda.

• Charcuterie (if you're a meat eater): Now this isn't a charcuterie plate, so the fromage should be the star, but it's nice to add a little salami or prosciutto to the mix. I opted for Creminelli's uncured bacon salami, which paired well with, well, just about everything.

• Nuts: Marcona almonds are the standout choice in my opinion, but any nuts will do. Chili or maple-spiced pecans or cashews are also a favorite.

• Fruits & Preserves: Fresh apples or pears, dried figs or dates, and/or any kind of preserves add a sweet compliment. Here I kept the Mediterranean theme going with an Adriatic fig preserves; this Apple Rosemary Jelly is also a cheese plate star.

• Honey: Another option for a sweet touch. Use orange blossom, lavender, or your local favorite.

• Pickles/Olives: As the Gordy's Pickle Jar gals pointed out, this cheese plate is devoid of any pickled goods. How could I forget?! Any and all olives are great in this context, as well as cornichons, pickled okra, green tomato pickles.... you really can't go wrong.

• Crackers or Bread: Make your own (recipe below) or use store-bought. I became a fan of Raincoast's Fig and Olive Crisps and also wondered what a puff pastry-esque cracker might be like?? Stay tuned...

Arrange everything on a cutting board, slate, or plate, using ramekins or jars for preserves, nuts, and pickles if desired. Set out some knives and cheese spreaders et puis voilà! Let the pairings begin.

Corn and Black Pepper Crackers
Adapted from New York Times Cooking

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted + more for greasing
1/2 cup cornmeal (I used Kentucky Heirloom Cornmeal)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground
3/4 teaspoon herbs and/or seeds, if desired (rosemary, sesame seeds, etc.)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup milk
1 large egg

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper and butter parchment (or use a Silpat).

2. Sift cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, pepper, salt, and any additional herbs or seeds into a large bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, beat milk with egg. Add to dry ingredients all at once and mix with a wooden spoon until no lumps remain. Stir in melted butter. Batter will be quite wet.

4. Drop batter by the tablespoonful onto prepared baking sheets. Bake until edges are a dark golden brown and crackers are quite crispy, 13-18 minutes.

Related recipes:
Apple Butter
Apple Rosemary Jelly
Grapefruit-Ginger Marmalade
Rosemary-Raisin Bread

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


The history of doughnuts is intrinsically linked to the celebration of Mardi Gras. "Fat Tuesday" -- the Christian day of revelry and indulgence before the austere season of Lent -- features dough deep-fried in fat as its main staple.

Among the first foods to be fried were Roman scriblita, a precursor to today's doughnuts and fritters. Originating in the medieval era, most Christian European traditions have developed a version of fried dough for Shrove Tuesday (another name for the day before Lent starts). The rich treats presented a way to use up all of the butter, sugar and fat in the house prior to the self-denying diets of Lent. Traditionally it was an opportunity for indulgence, a day when, once a year, communities would go through the labor-intensive and expensive process of deep-frying in order to partake in a luxurious treat.

Beignets are the most widely known Mardi Gras doughnut. The recipe for the light and eggy pillows of fried dough was brought to Louisiana when French Acadians were deported there in the 18th century. But there is another, lesser-known Carnival doughnut in New Orleans — calas. Sweet, fried rice dumplings, calas originate from the West African enslaved people who were brought to the area in the late 1700s. The recipe was passed on among Catholic African-American families who served them at Mardi Gras and other celebrations, and they're making a comeback in New Orleans restaurants, where they're offered as both savory and sweet dishes.

As it goes with traditional recipes that have undergone many relocations, transitions and generations, there are many variations and not one definitive source for all of these varying Carnival delights. Whichever variety you choose, celebrate Mardi Gras the way it's supposed to be — with a hearty helping of dough and fat.

A longer version of this post was originally published on NPR's Kitchen Window

Adapted from What's Cooking America 

I recommend making the dough the night before so you can fry and eat them fresh first thing the next morning. 

Makes 18 to 24 beignets 

1 cup lukewarm water 
3 teaspoons active dry yeast 
1/4 cup white sugar, plus a pinch 
4 cups all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 large egg, beaten 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened 
1/2 cup evaporated milk 
Vegetable oil for deep-frying 
Powdered sugar for dusting 

1. In a medium bowl, place water, yeast and pinch of sugar. Whisk together and let sit to dissolve yeast, 5 to 10 minutes. 

2. In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine flour, 1/4 cup sugar and salt. Add yeast mixture and stir until incorporated. Add egg, butter and evaporated milk and mix until well combined and dough is smooth. 

3. Remove dough from bowl and roll out onto a lightly oiled surface. Form dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, 3 to 4 hours or overnight. 

4. Once chilled, remove dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured surface about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into squares and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with a cloth and set aside while you heat the oil. 

5. In a deep heavy saucepan with high sides, heat 3 inches of oil to 360-375 degrees F. Working in batches, fry the beignets for 2 minutes on each side, until puffed and golden brown. Using a wire skimmer or slotted spatula, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Transfer to a baking sheet and let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm or at room temperature.

Related recipes:
Apple Cider Doughnuts
Cardamom Doughnut Muffins

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Valentine's Sweets to the Sweet

Oh, Valentine's Day. That yearly tension between refusing to succumb to vapid commercialism and the genuine desire to express your love. To me, the can't-go-wrong solution is to show your affection with a simple homemade or handmade token and then shower your loved ones with the real, sincere kindnesses that money can't buy. A good rule for the other 364 days, really. In any case, here are a few Valentine-y suggestions for an edible treat--rich and chocolatey, tart and fruity, or otherwise. Of course you can always find more via the Recipe Index.

Happy LOVE day & enjoy!

Chocolate Coconut Pie (gluten-free)
Chocolate and Peanut Butter Pretzel Tart
Milk Chocolate and Salted Caramel Hazelnut Tart
Nutella Icebox Pie

Blood Orange Chess Pie
Cranberry Hand Pies (heart shaped!)
Pistachio Blood Orange Tart

Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie
Maple Bourbon Buttermilk Pie
Salty Honey Pie

All of the Above
Chocolate Orange Pie with Mascarpone Cream
Cranberry Chocolate Chess Pie
Dark Chocolate Lavender Tart with a Lemon Cardamom Crust

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Cranberry Chocolate Chess Pie

HELLO FEBRUARY! Though I went on two long-weekend adventures during the first month of 2015-- one to a cabin in Virginia for New Year's and another cross-country skiing in West Virginia-- the rest of my free time has largely been spent at home-- reading and writing, knitting and watching movies, listening to podcasts and making food. I've really been feeling the winter nesting alone time vibes; honoring those feelings has felt both productive and relaxing. I'm not sure if February will prompt a changing tide, but I'm open to whatever it sends my way.

In the first few years after I graduated college, my friends and I self-published a collaborative literary journal/zine called The Dovetail Collective. The theme and concept was constantly changing, but each issue had a regular column where members shared what they were currently reading, watching, and listening to. In what were largely pre-social media days (most of us had Myspace pages, but that's about it), it was a good way to get reliable book, movie, and music recommendations. In the spirit of that and my especially bookwormish tendencies as of late, here's what I've been reading/watching/listening:

Reading: Carolyn Chute's Treat Us Like Dogs and We Will Become WolvesI've had the pleasure of getting to know Carolyn the past few years through NELP. She writes about a side of Maine-- her side-- that's not regularly depicted in the coastal tourist paradise stereotype we're often fed and her stories are raw and real and complicated. I also just started Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven and am totally enthralled.

Watching: Star Trek: The Next Generation. Yep, when I finally finish the sweater I'm knitting, there will be many hours of TNG invested in those stitches. Also, Broad City. For movies I recently enjoyed Selma and Iranian vampire movie, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.

Listening: Serial and the new NPR podcast Invisibilia (one of the producers, Lulu Miller, was actually a member of The Dovetail Collective). Still blasting D'Angelo's Black Messiah in the work headphones and have been spinning Jake Xerxes Fussell's new self-titled album on Paradise of Bachelors.

What have I been baking? Along with MAV's Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies, you're seeing it right here. Hoosier Mama Pie Company's Cranberry Chess Pie has become a go-to favorite, as I've said before and I was planning to make it for Christmas. When I got home, though, I learned that my mom had already made it for Thanksgiving, so I considered how I might alter the recipe for something new. I thought cranberries would pair well with a bittersweet chocolate and it turns out, they do-- resembling cherry cordials in flavor (another family holiday standby). The recipe whips up pretty quickly and is a good pick for Valentine's Day or for just sittin' at home watching Star Trek and knitting a sweater on a Sunday afternoon.

Cranberry Chocolate Chess Pie
Inspired by Hoosier Mama's Cranberry Chess Pie

Nothing in the House pie crust, halved
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60% or higher)
3/4 cup white sugar
1 Tablespoon yellow cornmeal
2 large eggs, beaten well
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 cups fresh cranberries, halved

1. Prepare half of Nothing in the House pie crust as per the directions, reserving the leftover egg for an egg wash. Chill dough at least one hour before rolling and fitting into a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan. Let chill in the fridge while you prepare the filling. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Place the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Cook until both butter and chocolate are melted into a smooth chocolate sauce, 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into a medium bowl.

3. Add the sugar and cornmeal to the chocolate mixture and stir until well combined. Then add the eggs, vanilla, salt, and orange zest. Stir with a wooden spoon until evenly mixed. Gently fold in the cranberries.

4. Pour the batter into the pie shell and smooth with a rubber spatula. Bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating pie 180 degrees halfway through. When done, filling will be puffed and set and crust will be golden brown. Remove pie from oven and let cool until warm, at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with chocolate shavings, if desired.

Related recipes:
Cranberry Chess Pie
Cranberry Hand Pies
Cranberry Pie
Chocolate Chess Pie

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sandy Spring Sand Tarts

Last year I was hired by Sandy Spring Museum and Maryland Traditions, the folklife organization for the state, to conduct an initial folklife survey in Sandy Spring, Maryland, 20 miles north of Washington, D.C. A historic Quaker and African-American community, Sandy Spring was a known stop on the Underground Railroad-- it was said to be on Harriet Tubman's route-- and the town also hosted lectures by Frederic Douglass and housed Dred Scott when he was awaiting trial. Today it is an increasingly diverse community with newer immigrant populations and families who've been there for decades.

My task in Sandy Spring was to identify traditional artists and tradition bearers and interview them, to assist the Museum in better understanding the cultural activity in the community, as well as explore ideas for future programming. Two such tradition bearers I interviewed were Beth Garretson and Louise Kriger Meganson -- both Quakers and members of the Women's Mutual Improvement Association, a local social club founded in 1857.

At The Association's monthly luncheons, members are invited to share something that interested them that month-- a poem, an article,  bird calls, horticultural advice. Like any good club, though, this one seems to really revolve around food, namely cookies, and specifically, Sandy Spring Sand Tarts. The cookies that bear the town's name spurred quite a discussion in our interview, the gist of which is perhaps best relayed in the dialogue itself:
Emily: So you said you're into cookies-- are there any recipes that get passed down or continue to pop up among the group?
Louise: Absolutely! We have Sandy Spring Tarts-- they're about 20 versions. They're the best. But there are all kinds of different sorts. You know, people will make them a certain thickness or use a certain amount of flour, or you use eggs or you don't use eggs or you put an almond on top or you don't put an almond on top.
Beth: We had everyone bring their recipe for sand tarts one month and it was amazing. The difference in them.
Louise: They were tasty!
Beth: But of course I know that I have the right recipe!
Beth went on to explain that the sand tarts are not especially unusual, but have been made by Sandy Springers for Christmas cookies for generations. That's true in a broader context too. According to Food Timeline, sand tarts are likely descendants of simple sugar cookies, with "sand tarts" appearing in cookbooks in the 1880s, though absent of attribution or narrative. They're common Christmas cookies in Denmark and Sweden, and have similar ingredients to German sand tortes. Sand tarts are also popular in domestic scientist cookbooks-- there's a version in Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cookbook, from 1886.

Personally, I like them for their buttery simplicity, and,with their diamond shapes, potential for tessellation patterns (resembling quilt squares) in their presentation. They're also an ideal tea or snack cookie-- I took a tin of them cross-country skiing last weekend and they were the perfect warm-up treat with a nip of whiskey or hot chocolate.

Sandy Spring Sand Tarts
Adapted from Beth Garrettson via the Sandy Spring Women's Association Cookbook

Makes 3-4 dozen, depending on size

1/4 lb. raw unsalted almonds
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, reserving one egg white for finishing
4 cups all-purpose flour
Cinnamon sugar for dusting (1 cup granulated sugar + 2 Tablespoons cinnamon)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Blanch and split the almonds by pouring boiling water over almonds to cover. Let sit until the skins can be slipped off easily. Drain, then cut almonds in half and set aside.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream butter and slowly add the sugar. Add the eggs, minus one white. Mix in the flour. Dough should be firm and not at all sticky, if it is too wet, gradually add more flour.

3. Divide the dough into 4 large balls. On a clean, floured surface, roll out each part about 1/4-inch thick and cut into diamonds. Beat the egg white with a whisk until frothy and brush cookies with egg white and generously sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

4. Place cookies on cookie sheet, fairly close together as they spread just a little. Press half almond on each one and bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned and puffed. Store in metal box-- they keep for nearly a month.

Related recipes:
Almond and Grapefruit-Ginger Marmalade Crostata
Lemon-Lavender Meringue Pie Cookies 
Pea & Corn Cookies

Friday, January 23, 2015

Happy National Pie Day!

Happy National Pie Day! Every day is pretty much pie day around here, but I won't turn down an excuse to indulge. Celebrate with a slice-- perhaps of this Chocolate Orange Pie with Mascarpone Cream-- and a pie playlist from Smithsonian Folkways (where I spend my work days), featuring songs from Pete Seeger to Lord Melody. Of course you can always find more pie songs here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Salted Butter Apple Galette for a Local Dinner Party

The summer after I graduated college, I moved to Burlington, Vermont. I'd wanted to live in New England for a long time, had a job lined up, but other than my future boss who'd I'd talked to on the phone a few times, I didn't know a soul. I was excited about a new adventure, but was sad and scared to be leaving the close creative community my college friends and I had formed.

On the first day of my job in Vermont, I met my soon-to-be-good-friend Angela, who that night brought me to an event that just about immediately overhauled my Vermont life-- The Seamonster Potluck.

I don't know the exact details of how it started, but I do know it had always been hosted by my other soon-to-be-good-friends Meghan and Gahlord, occurred on the third Thursday of every month, and would quickly become a foundation for my entire social life and serve as the gateway to best friends, the forming of multiple bands, a shared studio space, and many, many epic parties.

The Seamonster Potluck taught me the power of a small, simple gathering of people coming together to break bread. It's a lesson I can sometimes forget in the chaos of daily life, but one I've kept coming back to since I moved away from that fair city on Lake Champlain.

A few weeks ago, my friends Morgan, Dalila and I hosted a similar simple potluck, with the help of some local businesses and a very game group of guests. From the Farmer generously donated boxes of local produce to all attendees who were up for cooking a homemade dish to share, and other guests were charged with bringing a local product of their choice, whether it be DC Brau Public Ale, Gordy's pickles, or Dolcezzo Salted Caramel Gelatto. West Elm DC offered their place settings and mercury glass table décor while DeVinos lent a hand on the wine-front.

Morgan and Mitchell graciously offered to host the gathering in their cool Adams Morgan apartment, already well-stocked with 2 essential mood makers-- Christmas lights and good records. Guests' dishes complemented each other for a hearty winter meal-- we had French onion soup and mushroom-almond tapenade, parmesan celery spread and a local baguette, marinated broccoli with soft-boiled farm eggs, a butternut squash and apple tart with stilton and quinoa, sausage-pumpkin-spinach salad, and much more. I made a savory mushroom-gruyère tart, and a simple salted butter apple galette with maple whipped cream, adapted from Bon Appetit.

Salted Butter Apple Galette with Maple Whipped Cream
Adapted from Bon Appetit

Nothing in the House pie crust
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) salted butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 pound (about 3 large) baking apples, washed and sliced 1/8-inch thick
3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon Turbinado sugar
2 cups heavy cream
2 Tablespoons maple syrup, grade B

1. Prepare Nothing in the House pie crust as per the directions. Chill dough in the fridge at least one hour. Meanwhile, prepare the salted butter glaze.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place butter in a small saucepan and scrape in vanilla seeds; add pod. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until butter foams, then browns (be careful not to burn), 5-8 minutes. Remove pan from heat and remove pod.

3. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a rough 14x10-inch rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Arrange apple slices on top, overlapping and leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Brush apples with brown butter and sprinkle with brown sugar. Lift edges of dough over apples, tucking and overlapping as needed to keep rectangular shape.

4. Beat egg with 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl and brush crust with egg wash. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake, rotating once, until apples are soft and juicy and crust is golden brown 40-50 minutes. Let cool slightly on baking sheet before slicing.

5. Beat cream in a medium bowl to medium soft peaks. Fold in maple syrup and serve with galette.

The dinner party was reminiscent of those best Seamonster potlucks-- really the way all dinner gatherings should be-- relaxed, delicious, and oh so cozy, with an overall feeling of warmth-- from the conversation, candles, AND red wine.

Big thanks to Morgan Hungerford West and Mitchell West for hosting, Dalila Boclin for coordinating, Cortney Hungerford for photography, all our awesome guests, and local partners-- From the Farmer, West Elm DC, DeVinos, and DC Brau.

Head on over to Panda Head for MORE.

Related recipes:
Apple Galette
Apple Pie with Salted Caramel Glaze
Cranberry-Lime Galette
Satsuma Orange Galette with Cream Cheese Crust