Extolling the Virtues of Good Instructions, Good Equipment and Good Friends

Despite our goals to eat more vegetables and finally be able to do a pull-up in 2012, our first post of the year features a hodgepodge of delicious (and admittedly not-so-healthy) cookie recipes, all taken from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook, based on the goodies she makes at her Boston bakeries. But let us tell you, they are SOOOOOO worth it. Seriously. Go get this cookbook. From Amazon or from the library. These recipes are amazing. Our favorites so far: cornmeal lime cookies and rosemary shortbread. And even though we aren’t particularly fond of peanut butter or oreos, her peanut butter cookies and homemade oreos were enough to make us go back for seconds.

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Peanut butter cookies: So soft and chewy and not-too-sweet-or-peanut-buttery. Just perfect.

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Left to right:
Rosemary shortbread: Melt in your mouth goodness with the pleasant savory surprise of rosemary. Great with tea and coffee.
Homemade oreos: A moist and intensely chocolately cookie. The only thing we didn’t like was the super sweet buttercream filling, but to be fair, it tasted just like the real Oreo filling.
Cornmeal lime cookies: Another amazingly creative cookie. Tastes like good cornbread with a kick of lime. Great if you’re like us and don’t like super-sweet desserts. Yummmm.

We haven’t been to Flour yet, but that is about to change. It’s been officially added to our Boston bucket list (especially since Carol is graduating in the spring! Wen is crying a little inside).

A few things from our cookie extravaganza that we learned:

1. Cookbooks rock. We usually like to pull recipes off the internet (hello allrecipes.com!) and take generous liberties with the instructions. But we’ve recently rediscovered the awesomeness of the detailed instructions that come in cookbooks. Joanne Chang lays out very specific baking tips about what temperature your butter should be for perfect creaming, and how long you should whip/cream mixtures, and exactly how brown the cookies should be when they’re done. We would have ignored all these previously, because really, how much difference can it make? Apparently, a lot. What we’ve come to love about cookbooks is that they actually have the space to tell you why things are done a certain way.

Take creaming butter+sugar together, for example. Joanne (if we may call her by her first name) advises the temperature to be 68F, or “slightly cooler than room temperature, softened enough that you can bend the stick of butter but not soft enough for you to poke your finger through it.” Why? Because during creaming, the sugar is supposed to dig into the butter and create all these air pockets for a light and fluffy cookie or cake. If the butter is too cold and hard, the sugar can’t create those air pockets, whereas if it’s too warm and soft, the air pockets just collapse. Knowing that the instructions weren’t written willy-nilly made us follow them more carefully. And we’ve learned something new!

2. Stand mixers and kitchen scales rock even more. Wen recently got a Kitchenaid mixer and scale as gifts. We’re frugal skeptics and had our doubts about how awesome they could really be (sure, they must make things easier, but you don’t ever need them…). Honestly, though, we have been converted.

– Hands-free mixing! For those who like multi-tasking and maximum efficiency, no more trying to hold your hand mixer in one hand and scoop flour with your other hand. (Yes, this has been attempted many times in our kitchen. And no, it has never ended well.) Now we just let the machine do it’s thing while we do our own.

– Easier clean-up! We love cooking and baking, but the sink full of dirty dishes afterward is the worst. Now, we can just weigh out our ingredients directly from the bag/box/whatever into the mixing bowl, re-zero the scale, and measure the next ingredient in the bowl. No more using (and therefore cleaning) a gazillion measuring cups.

– Perfect portions! Wen is just a little (read: a lot) neurotic, and has discovered that she can use the scale to weigh out identically sized cookies (35 g is our ideal size).

– Reproducibility! Weighing is more accurate than measuring volumes (see this recent NYTimes article). No doubt this helped us re-create the Flour cookies as closely as possible. In fact, friends who’ve tried these cookies from the bakery said they taste just like the ones from there – success!

– Opportunities to be creative! We discovered that you can use the kitchen scale to weigh packages and calculate the correct postage. Because let’s be honest, who actually has a postage meter?

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new BFFs: kitchen scale + stand mixer

3. Friends who share tips and recipes and revelations rock the most. None of these delicious cookies would have been made, or lessons about baking techniques learned, without our awesome friends who graciously and generously share recipes, articles and advice with us. We shall be inviting them for guest blog posts soon, so stay tuned!

2012 Resolicipes (Resolutions/Recipes we’d like to try)

Because we have been on hiatus (Carol had carpal tunnel syndrome….she was diagnosed by Wen and WebMD.com), we are coming back in 2012 with a resolute mind to post more (and have guest posts, too!).  However, while we’re gaining the momentum to get back into posting mode (namely, Carol needs to move back to Boston from winter break), we’re listing recipes we definitely want to try soon:

1. Pumpkin Cheddar Mac and Cheese

2. Braised Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Pecans

When Wen (When Wen, haha!) picked out this recipe, Carol responded: GROSS! to which Wen said, “STOP HATING ON BRUSSEL SPROUTS”

FYI, Wen is trying to get Carol to eat her veggies in the New Year.  Last time, Carol defended herself by informing Wen that she ate plenty of onions and garlic.  Wen informed Carol that garlic was not a vegetable.  

3. Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding

Carol also thought this sounded gross, but Wen informed Carol that she had no taste* and creativity.  Carol posted this recipe only because she loves Wen.  She is quickly finding that Wen and her have very different 2012 resolicipes.

 me:  omg wen!
some of these are SO GROSS SOUNDING
TOFU PUDDING?!?!
 Wen:  WHAT?
but so creative!
it’s silken tofu
 me:  omg
i refuse
hahahahahaha
 Wen:  no taste
CAROL
 me:  HAHAHAHA
OKOKOK
i’ll post it
 Wen:  don’t judge before trying!
 me:  WITH A
BIG DISCLAIMER
 Wen:  FINE THROW ME UNDER THE BUS

[THERE IS NO PICTURE FOR THIS CREATION.  Use your imagination to picture weird tofu chocolate thing]

4. Carol is tired and will post more later.  Happy New Year everyone! We love our 5 friends and Celia (Wen’s cousin) who read this blog.

* Correction (a la New York Times)
Wen:  HEY
i didn’t mean you had no taste
i meant tofu had no taste:P

So Excited About Produce

We got another free pickup of fresh local produce and were so excited we had to post!  Stay tuned for yummy things to come…

Loaded Corn Chowder

This chowder was born out of an abundance of delicious locally grown veggies, bestowed upon us by our friends who have a weekly local CSA share but are out of town this week (getting married!! Congrats Mike and Alana!). It’s loaded with lots and lots of veggies, as well as some quirky last-minute inspired ingredients that turned out to be quite amazing, if we do say so ourselves.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • ~5 cloves garlic
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 red potatoes (red potatoes hold their shape the best and don’t get too mushy)
  • bell peppers and chili peppers (more on this later)
  • 1 bag frozen corn
  • 1 bag frozen peas
  • chicken broth (you can use vegetable broth to make this vegetarian. we just used what we had on hand)
  • cream/milk (we used soy milk. one of us is, sadly, lactose intolerant)

Seasonings:

  • salt and pepper
  • Italian seasoning
  • thyme
  • cumin
  • capers
  • a couple tablespoons corn meal

We started with this amazing assortment of veggies:


Ironically, we didn’t actually use the fresh corn for this recipe. They were just too yummy and we devoured it as corn on the cob.

Also, see those cute little orange and yellow and green peppers? We were all excited for some pretty colors and flavors, only to realize that they are SUPER SPICY. As in, they burned Wen’s fingers when she was chopping them. In fact, her fingertips are still tingling right now, several hours and multiple serious scrubbings later… [Update: still burning the next morning. Fortunately, Wen works in a lab and has access to all sorts of chemicals. After a good soaking in 100% isopropanol, her hands are feeling dehydrated, but are finally free of capsaicin!]

(And while we’re on all these asides, does anyone know how to clean leeks? Do you eat the tough green parts? They’d probably have tasted great in this chowder, had we known how to prepare them.)

The seasonings:

Here we go!

As always, chop your veggies first! Tip: the spicier the pepper, the more finely they should be chopped. Wouldn’t want to set an unsuspecting taster’s mouth on fire! (We ended up using only one of the little firecracker peppers.)

Step 1. saute garlic and onion with some olive oil until fragrant.

Step 2. add peppers. (hmmm… why do all our recipes start this way?)

Step 3.  add peas and corn. Isn’t it pretty? It’s like a vegetable party!

Step 4. add potatoes. add chicken broth to cover.

Step 5. add cream/milk to desired creaminess. add salt, pepper, italian seasoning and dried thyme (1-2 tsp each).

And this is where Wen had a mini-meltdown in the kitchen and forgot to take pictures of the rest of the process. You see, we tasted it at this point, and it was sweet. Really sweet. Too sweet. And it lacked depth of flavor. What to do??? Fear not, CUMIN TO THE RESCUE. A few teaspoons later, the flavor was more multi-dimensional (seriously, try it! cumin will solve so many of your cooking problems!). But it was still too sweet. This is when we were like, bacon would have been so awesome here. Pioneer Woman, we shouldn’t have doubted you. (This recipe is loosely based off of this Pioneer Woman post, but we had decided to try to load up on veggies and cut down on fat.) And by now, it was 9 pm and we were hungry and nobody wanted to run to the store. So we rummaged through our fridge, attempting to be creative. And what do we find? Capers! Salty AND a vegetable! (Or technically, a flower. Same difference) A few tablespoons of capers later, and a little cornmeal to thicken, VOILA.

And so we present to you:

Korean Food Post 1: Dwen Jang (Miso) Jjigae

This is Wen’s favorite dish by far, so this post is just for her so that she can make it when she wants to. 🙂

It is a Korean soup called dwen jang jjigae, with a miso base and lots of veggies.  I am tired so I will be concise tonight!

Ingredients:

Veggies

  • Garlic (5-6 cloves)
  • Onion (2 for a big pot)
  • Potatoes (2)
  • Zucchini (2)
  • long pepper (1 is fine, ours was way too spicy)
  • scallion

  • beef (1/2 lb-ish)

Asian ingredients:

  • tofu (1 box)
  • sesame oil
  • 3 big spoonfuls of “dwen jang” (bean paste, or Korean miso)
  • a little bit of “ggoh chu jang” (red pepper paste)

Before you start, chop up all your veggies..

Here we go!

1. As always, start with the garlic simmering in sesame oil.

2. Throw in the chopped up onion and pepper.  Sautee until they are done.

3. Throw in the beef into the mix and cook until the beef is done!

4.  Pour in some water (not too much because we still have plenty left to put in!) and wait for the water to boil.

5.  Add the miso paste (3 big spoonfuls, taste and add more if necessary) and just a TAD bit of the red pepper paste.

6. Add zucchini and potatoes.  Zucchini is awesome!

7. Add tofu and let soup boil for a while so all the flavors can mix together!

Tada….

Failed Pad Thai but Beautiful Ingredients

Our pad thai didn’t turn out so great, but we really liked this picture, so..

and here was the finished product!  Pretty, and tasty, but not up to Wen standards for blogging.

(Sometimes you CAN have a little too much substitution, says Wen).

It’s 9-o’clock-I’m-tired-and-hungry Fried Rice

If you haven’t noticed, our posts when Wen is cooking = real cooking, and our posts when Carol is cooking = easy cooking (like Easy Yummy Salad).

So today, guess who?

I’d like to also give this post the alternative title: The Ugly Duckling.  Because this recipe is all about turning rejected rice into a beautiful thing.

Here’s what you need for better than average fried rice that’s still super easy:

  • rice (preferably rice that has been left out in the cold/fridge)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2-1 piece of chicken breast (depending on how much of a carnivore you are)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • onion
  • garlic
  • soy sauce
  • sesame oil (you don’t HAVE to, but this makes it delish. And everyone should have sesame oil!) or vegetable oil
YAY!

Prep/Prologue:

Take rejected rice out of the rice cooker or fridge.  The more rejected your rice is, supposedly the better your fried rice (as in, don’t MAKE rice and then immediately use it to make fried rice. Make love, not rice!).

Here’s my rejected rice, lookin’ lonely (single and ready to mingle):

Yesterday.. all my troubles seemed so far away..

Chop up onion and garlic into edible pieces, and have your egg ready for crackage.

Have sauces ready and on guard!

…and chop up the chicken.  To keep this site SFW, I’m going to avoid putting naked chicken pictures up (jk, I just forgot to take its picture).

Alright, here we go!

Step one: Start off with oil and garlic simmering.  This will create a delicious smell in the air 🙂

Step two: Add in chopped onion to join the family.

Step three: Enter the ugly duckling.

Step four: Add in the chicken.

Step five: Add in salt and pepper.

Step six: crack the egg in when you see chicken is almost done.

Step seven: Add in some soy sauce and…TADA!

And here are some glamour shots of a very not so glamorous thing…