Warm Breakfast Quinoa and Some Thoughts On 2010

breakfast quinoa

I’ve been away for a while, much longer than the week off that I’d planned on taking. I needed to take a break from the pace of the FCI kitchens and my internship, to travel up north for family time and to reunite with old friends, to cook without pausing to take notes or click the shutter, and to eat some amazing food at this seriously good, seriously charming neighborhood eatery, and this destination restaurant/shrine to local cuisine. We capped it all off by ringing in the New Year with champagne and Brian’s now famous paella, and then, before I knew it, I was right back in the thick of things and feeling very disorganized.

dried fruit and nuts

I try to take a realistic approach to making resolutions come January 1, avoiding things that I know are futile, like super-restrictive dieting, or resolving to stop compulsively biting my nails (been there, done that). Instead, I like to make lists comprised of a mix of goals and big moments yet to come in the year ahead. Today’s recipe for creamy, hearty breakfast quinoa parlays beautifully into two lists I’ve made this year: my personal list, and my EVK-specific list.

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Coconut Cream Cheese Pinwheels

pinwheel

In case you missed the 24 hour news coverage, New York got a little bit of snow for the first time this year. At some point during yesterday’s shift at my pastry internship, the pastry chef, sous chef, and I poked out heads out of the bulkhead from the basement kitchen and watched with delight as the first flakes fell down onto the sidewalk above. I spent the rest of the shift fantasizing about an evening holed up at home in my PJs, drinking red wine and watching the storm from the comfort of my couch.

pinwheels

After a long week, it feels really nice to be forced to hit the pause button and seal yourself away inside to hibernate and wait out the storm. I used this time to try out this pretty recipe, since neither rain nor snow is going to keep Christmas from coming, and I’ve got sweet (chewy, coco-nutty, fruity) promises to keep.

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Cranberry Shortbread

cranberry shortbread

Whenever I put a variety of cookies together, I try really hard to include something for every kind of cookie taste. For example, I always include some kind of buttery and crumbly sable, something uber-chocolate, something gooey, something jammy and fruity, and something nutty and spiced. I’m never short on ideas for these categories, but I always freeze when it comes to bars. I love including a bar cookie, no question, but with the dizzying variety, from cheesecakes to lemon bars to brownies, it’s almost another food category entirely and I just can’t decide.

cranberry shortbread, sans white chocolate

This year was no exception, and an exhaustive research session with my stacks of cookbooks only left me feeling more bewildered. That’s when I decided to combine two of my favorite recipes of all time, this one, and this one (which resulted in EVK recently being featured on Saveur.com). The cookie love-child that resulted was absolutely worth my angst.

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Mini Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

peanut butter whoopie pies

I’m trying hard to keep my holiday baking interesting this year, and my strategy is to integrate unexpected, fun pieces into my cookie presentations. Gingerbread men, rum balls, and peppermint sandwich cookies all have their place, indeed it wouldn’t feel like the holidays without them. But, as your second, or third, or tenth holiday party rolls around, you might start to get a little tired of sampling them.
peanut better whoopie pies 2

That’s why I’ve decided to offer up some different ideas for hand-held holiday treats. They may not be the first ideas that come to mind when you think about seasonal indulgence, but you’ll also notice that they tend to disappear first from the dessert table.

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Meringue Mushrooms

meringue mushrooms

There are cookie recipes everywhere I turn, a sure hallmark of the holiday season. They’re on the blogs, they’re in my email, and they’re are all over my food mags. They’re at my internship too. It’s the holidays and everyone loves the excuse to bake, including yours truly. I love setting aside whole days devoted to baking, then turning up the music in my apartment, plotting my recipes, and then stocking the fridge with a dozen different doughs that I turn out, one after another.

meringue mushrooms

I’ve been in pastry school for three months now and I’ve been a pastry intern for two. When I come calling with my cookie plates this year, people rightly have high expectations for the treats that I bring and I don’t want to let them down. So I’m pulling out the stops. I’m assembling all of my favorites together on one festive silver platter, and that platter could never, ever be complete without meringue mushrooms.

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Latkes and Indian Spiced Potato Pancakes

potato pancakes and Indian-Spiced Potato Pancakes

When I was a kid, I was envious of those who were Jewish. It has nothing to do with my interest in the faith, the appeal of its strong community, or the preservation of very old traditions. Rather, it came down to simple mathematics; with eight being decidedly greater than one, I was convinced that Christmas-celebrators were being shortchanged days of celebration.

frying

Now I’m grown up and about to marry a Jewish man, and through our courtship I’ve discovered something entirely different to envy about the chosen people – their delicious and comforting foods. It’s a stretch for me to choose, but if I had to pick my favorite from the mass of sumptuous kugels, brisket, noodle pudding, lox, and knish I’ve enjoyed, I’d still have to say that latkes (potato pancakes) are the dish that I look forward to more than any other.

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Pumpkin Pie, Unplugged

_DSC4780

This Thanksgiving, for the first time in my thirty year long pie-eating career, I had a pumpkin pie breakthrough. Each year of my life someone has baked one and I always partake, unable to resist what I’d imagined and build up in my mind as a creamy, airy manifestation of pure pumpkin flavor. And year after year, I’m met with disappointing first bites that are some variation of overly-spiced, too-sweet, oily, or lumpy-textured pies (many of which are made by otherwise great cooks). And so, I’d come to accept that what I hoped pumpkin pie to be was not actually what it was.

pumpkin pie slice

But for Thanksgiving this year, the pumpkin pie gods were smiling down on me.  As the only guest at the table who has logged over two months in pastry school and done some time in a real restaurant kitchen, I was put in charge of desserts. In my role as pastry chef of Thanksgiving, I seized the opportunity to create the pumpkin pie of my dreams, with the help of this book.

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Anise Fougasse

annise fougasse

During the weekend following Thanksgiving I received no less than ten emails from readers and friends containing questions about how to bake bread. It’s not much of a stretch to see why, since lazing around the house (obviously, how I spent the long weekend) is very conducive to bread baking, and bread dough provides lots of time for lazing, so the yeast has time to bring the proper rise.

pulling the bread apart

I was happy to see that many of the emails were from first-time bread bakers, but quickly discovered that with bread, it’s hard to answer general baking questions, such as, “Dear Lauren, How does one go about making bread?” in a succinct email. I’d start out discussing gluten development, find myself going off on a tangent about the science involved , only to realize that (four paragraphs later), I still hadn’t touched upon the subject of yeasts and leaveners. I’m pretty sure that I ended up causing confusion instead of clarity.

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Salted Chocolate Caramel Tart

chocolate caramel tart

It never ceases to amaze me just how fast the biggest meals go rushing by before our very eyes. As cooks we spend days, even weeks choosing our menu, shopping for our ingredients, and stocking our fridges to the gills with containers filled with our raw materials. We cook and cook our hearts out until the last guest has taken his seat at the table, the last bowl of soup placed upon the serving plate.

chocolate caramel tart

And then, for one exquisite moment, not a word is spoken and the only sound that can be heard is that of silver brushing against china. For those of us who love entertaining, this is the payoff for all of our toils.

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Apple Gallette

apple gallette

Last year at this time, I was fretting over the crusts for my Thanksgiving pies. Would they be as flaky as they were tasty? Would they live up to the high standards of my soon-to-be mother in law’s beautifully set table? And, the ever-popular, who the heck has time for all this nonsense anyway?

gallette slice

During that time, when my fascination with making pie evolved into a love for doing it, I also started to appreciate why so many people would rather just not even bother.

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