for the sake of my sanity

i'm a failure.
i mean, not really. of course not.

but this week i am. i had so much i wanted to accomplish this week! there was going to be soup, and pastry, and brownies, and a delicious and funky dinner party menu.

in its place, all i have are boxes. piles and piles of boxes. and wayward interns at my job. and not enough hours in the day. and a landlord who wants to start showing my partially-packed apartment before i even move out. and dinner guests coming on friday. and ten hours of pounding pavement, apartment searching, with nothing to show for it.

oh, and a cold and allergies.

and so it is with a heavy heart that i announce that no, there will be no strawberry tart with marshmallows. and there will be no dinner party menu for friday. and that i have to bow out of my very first challenge as a proud member of the daring bakers.

for the next several days, i will be counting on vicarious cooking to get me through the pain. my kitchen, it is empty!!


SHF #30, or step 1 in a project i really don't have time for but am going to do anyway

i've made it my mission to provide my fellow photographers in my weekly studio class with a bit of a snack. fine, right? some might even say friendly. and i like to do it, because it gives me an excuse to bake, and plus i end up with no leftovers. it's a win-win-win situation.

except this week, it's more challenging than that. because if i were really being conscientious--that is to say, if i were really being "focused," as my father would tell me--i wouldn't be baking at all, i'd be concentrating on packing for my impending move from our nation's capital to (IMHO) the greatest city on earth, new york. i'd be worrying about getting my boxes and finding all of my kitchen gadgets and emptying out the fridge and packing my clothes and all of those detail things that are really important when you move, like closing your bank account and changing your address and figuring out when to turn off the cable and the electricity.

but no, not me. i'm worried about what to serve my co-workers when they come for dinner on friday and how to use up those extra cashew nuts i found in the pantry and wondering if i can temper ghiradelli chocolate to make cashew bark (no, as it turns out, ghiradelli has too many emulsifiers to temper).

and i'm thinking about what to bring to class on thursday. this week, we're doing tabletop photography, so i want to bring something yummy AND photogenic so that i can work on taking my skills up a few levels and show my creations with a little more pride.

i'd been considering this recipe, from dorie greenspan's paris sweets, for a few weeks. at least, i'd bookmarked it and wondered if i'd ever find an excuse to make it. then, several factors converged and made my attempt inevitable. firstly, SHF 30 was announced as "flower power," which meant that i'd finally have a reason to try baking with some kind of flower water and which, coincidentally, this recipe calls for. secondly, i had a huge bag of potato starch leftover from passover that i don't feel like schlepping between cities. thirdly, i have several random packages of gelatin floating around that i similarly don't care to move. finally, i have this huge bag of frozen strawberries, which i'd purchased with the very healthy intention of making smoothies for breakfast, only to be thwarted by the fact that i can't drink cold things for breakfast when it's still in the 30s or 40s on my walk to work...

and so i present stage one of dorie's french strawberry marshmallow tart, strawberry-orange blossom marshmallows. (soon to be followed by the pie crust, pastry cream and finished product in time for thursday evening's class)

(from dorie greenspan's paris sweets)

Approximately 1 cup (100 grams) potato starch
8 to 10 ripe strawberries (about 3/4 cup; 100 grams), hulled
1 1/4 cups (300 grams) cold water
2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Scant 1/4 cup (75 grams) light corn syrup
4 packets powdered gelatin
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon orange-flower water

i. Line a 12 x 17-inch (30 x 42.5-cm) baking sheet that has a 1-inch (2.5-cm) rim with parchment paper and dust the paper heavily with potato starch; keep close at hand.

2. Purée the strawberries in a blender (traditional or hand-held) or food processor. You should have a scant 1/2 cup (100 grams); set this aside.

3. Put 2/3 cup (150 grams) of the water, 21/2 cups (500 grams) of the sugar, and
of the corn syrup into a medium saucepan and bring to the boil over medium
heat, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar dissolves, stop stir-
ring and continue to cook the syrup until it reaches 265°F (130°C) on a candy
thermometer, a process that could take about 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, sprinkle the gelatin over the remaining 2/3 cup (150 grams) col:
water and let soften for 5 minutes, then heat for 35 to 45 seconds in a microwav:
oven to liquefy (or do this stovetop); set this aside.

5. Put the egg whites in the clean, dry bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk a:-
tachment and beat on medium-high speed until they form firm, glossy peaks
(Make sure not to overbeat, or the peaks will go dull.)

6. As soon as the sugar syrup has come up to temperature, reduce the mixer spee
to medium and add the syrup, pouring it close to the side of the bowl to avola
the spinning whisk. Using the same technique, add the dissolved gelatin. Beat
for about 3 minutes to fully incorporate the syrup and gelatin.

7. Switch to a large rubber spatula and very gently fold the strawberry purée,
well as the orange-flower water, into the hot batter. Turn the batter out onto the
potato starch-dusted baking sheet and spread it into one of the ends, making
sure it reaches into the corners. Continue spreading the batter, keeping it 1 inch
(2.5 cm) thick: you'll probably have enough batter to make a 12-inch (30-cm)
square. Lift the excess parchment paper up to meet the edge of the marshmal-
low batter and put something against the paper to keep it in place (a couple of
spice jars or custard cups or some dried beans will do the trick). Generously
dust the top of the marshmallow square with potato starch. Allow the marsh-
mallow to cool and set in a cool, dry place, about 3 hours (they can rest
overnight, if that's more convenient for you).

8. When you are ready to serve the marshmallows (or to use them in the tart, in my case), cut the square into lanyards or cubes using a thin-bladed knife or large scissors. In either case, moisten and clean the blade(s) of-
ten. Cut marshmallows should be dusted all over with potato starch and the
excess shaken off.

K E E P IN G Dusted with potato starch, marshmallows will hold up for a week
or more if you pack them in an airtight container and keep them in a cool, dry

a note from puu: i'm honestly not 100% sure that these marshmallows turned out properly. this is the second time i've tried a dorie marshmallow recipe; the first time was a complete disaster. frankly, i've had better luck with lisa yockelson's technique from chocolatechocolate. but i figured that since these are for a tart anyway, not to be eaten plain, then perfection wasn't a prerequisite...


my plot to take over the world

meet graeme.
graeme is a member of my weekly studio photography class.
graeme volunteered to bring his kilt to our portraiture session.
graeme, i am sure, regretted this decision when 10 photographers swarmed around him for an hour, popping flashes and strobes every which way, but graeme was very obliging to his fellow man and played along.

graeme, it turns out, is also a vegan, which means that my labored-over world peace cookies from last week didn't make it onto his dessert menu.

most people, i am sure, would throw their hands up and keep baking. but i, newly-minted member of the daring bakers and compulsive keeper of recipes, saw only opportunity.

yes, opportunity. at last, a tailor-made excuse to play with the vegan cupcake recipe i'd been dilly-dallying over for months, ever since the washington post did a spread about vegan cupcakes take over the world. i'd clipped it, then discarded it, then clipped it again, discarded it, debating between the perceived health benefits of using almost no cholesterol in my baking with the harsh caloric reality of margarine-and-shortening icing. and now there were no obstacles in my path (except a pernicious bout of allergies, and a very fat cat who took one look at my chocolate-covered hands and decided i was ignoring him).

so stocked up on soy milk and earth balance and spent a very miserable wednesday evening--miserable because of the allergies, NOT the baking--discovering the joys of vegan baking.

the batter was so thin it was almost soupy, but it had this nice foamy layer from beating the curdled soy milk. a whopping 1/3 cup of cocoa powder gave it a deep chocolate flavor, and the extra dose of baking soda make everything rise appropriately. the cupcakes were light, fluffy, cakey and delicious. one would never miss the milk, eggs or butter, that's for sure.

and the icing? the icing was a revelation. it was light and whipped and held its texture really well. it had an ideal icing consistency, and the use of confectioners sugar kept everything smooth and creamy. best of all--to me, at least--was that the icing tasted like icing, and not butter. one of my major gripes with cupcakes and cakes and similar confections is that i despise buttercream. all i can ever taste is an overwhelming flavor of butter, and i hate the feel of all that fat on my tongue. but the cookies and cream icing was sweet, creamy, and just a tiny bit crunchy from the bits of chocolate wafer cookies stirred in.

surely world domination will follow!

Cookies 'n' Cream Cupcakes

The Washington Post, November 29, 2006

Related Story

1 dozen

For the cupcakes
  • • 1 cup flour
  • • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process or regular)
  • • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • • 1 cup soy milk
  • • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • • 3/4 cup sugar
  • • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, chocolate extract or more vanilla extract
  • • 10 vegan chocolate cream-filled sandwich cookies, such as Newman-O's, coarsely chopped
For the frosting
  • • 1/2 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
  • • 1/2 cup nonhydrogenated margarine, such as Earth Balance
  • • 3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted if clumpy
  • • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • • 1/4 cup plain soy milk or soy creamer
  • • 5 vegan chocolate cream-filled sandwich cookies, such as Newman-O's, finely mashed, plus 6 of the cookies, cut in half, for garnish


For the cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 12 muffin cups with paper or aluminum foil liners.

In a medium bowl or on a large square of waxed paper, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the soy milk and vinegar; set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil and vanilla extract and other extract, if using, and beat until foamy. Add the dry ingredients in 2 increments, and beat until no large lumps remain (a few small lumps are okay). Add the chopped cookies to the batter, stirring just to combine. Spoon the batter into the liner cups, filling them three-quarters full. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the shortening and margarine on medium-high speed for about 5 minutes, until well combined and fluffy. Reduce speed to low to add the sugar until incorporated, and then increase to medium-high speed to beat for about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and soy milk or creamer; beat on the same speed for 5 to 7 minutes, until fluffy. Add the cookie crumbs, mixing well.

To assemble: Frost the cupcakes generously and top each cupcake with half of a sandwich cookie by inserting the cut end into the frosting. Store in a sealed container for up to 3 days.

Recipe Source:

Adapted from "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World," by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero (Marlowe & Co., 2006).


risotto #10 - comfort me with apples

first it's all springy and gorgeous.
then the cherry blossoms are pulverized by frost, my parents have a foot of snow, and half of new jersey, it seems, has to be evacuated because of flooding.

then the wind starts blowing like a freaking hurricane, rattling the windows and terrifying my cat, and i was stubborn enough to wear a skirt to work anyway.

definitely the sort of monday that deserves warm, simple and delicious comforting foods. for lunch i made a toasted baguette with fresh mozzarella and pancetta crumbs, with a mug full of my sweet potato soup for extra warmth.

and i already knew what to have for dessert, since i had nearly a full loaf of chocolate chip brioche beckoning me from the kitchen table--bread pudding, obviously. and possibly some hot chocolate.

it was dinner that was causing me vexation. i thought if i had some nice beef, thai basil and some bird chiles i could whip up the warmest and tastiest stir fry i know, stolen from a cooking teacher at l'academie de cuisine in bethesda, maryland. but alas, i had none of those things.

i thought i could bake up some pitas and do a nigel-slater-style lamb-filled flatbread, but a quick recipe search of king arthur flour suggested that i would be better off making a sponge before work and baking it when i got home than starting from scratch at the late hour of 7.00pm.

finally, stuck in a late-afternoon daydream, i happened upon this recipe for apple risotto from kitchen unplugged. and suddenly i remembered that this apple risotto has been on my list of risottos to try for nearly a month, put on hold only because of the interference of passover and the cruelties of the calendar. my enthusiasm began to grow--until i remembered that i had no apples and no chicken stock at home. i tried to console myself with another kind of risotto, maybe a mushroom risotto (i did have mushroom stock and a pile of porcini), and remind myself that i've sworn off grocery shopping until i move.

no good. there was nothing for it but to stop at the grocery store on the way home and procure apples, stock, shallots and cheese.

at least it was a quick trip.

i came home and assembled my ingredients before me, but it didn't seem quite savory or comforting enough. i needed warmth of a more rib-sticking variety but still complementary to my planned dessert of bread pudding. my eyes fell upon the chicken breast leftover from sunday's chicken and miso soup. and the half-knob of young, sharp gouda. and suddenly i remembered a recipe from the new spanish table which used gouda instead of parmesan in risotto while my tongue reminded me of how incredibly good the apple-gouda combination tastes.

my path, at last, was set. i poached the chicken in a pot of slightly salty water for about 20 minutes while i prepped the risotto components and poured it all, you guessed it, right into my rice cooker. i shaved a solid 1/4 cup of risotto using my new and most miraculous microplane grater and smelled the sweet smell of browned shallots in the kitchen air.

confession time: the cheese melted most wonderfully and made up for the fact that i slightly overcooked the chicken. but the end result, as delightful as it was--and trust me, it really was delightful--could have used a little more zest.

puu's "comfort me with apples" risotto
(inspired by kitchen unplugged's apple risotto, williams-sonoma's poached chicken and carmelized onion risotto, and the new spanish table's gouda risotto and prepared according to beth hensperger's rice cooker technique)

1/2 cup arborio risotto rice
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 shallot, finely diced
2 T olive oil
1 small apple, diced
2 T heavy cream
1/4 cup grated gouda cheese
2 T butter
1 chicken breast, poached and diced

coat the apples with the heavy cream. set aside.
turn the rice cooker on.

coat the rice cooker bowl with oil and brown the shallots, about 3 minutes. add the rice and saute until each grain is nearly translucent, with a white dot in the center. add white wine, if desired (i didn't) and pour in the stock, resetting the rice cooker for the porridge cycle. about half to two-thirds of the way through the porridge cycle, pour in the apples and cream and let the cycle finish. add the chicken and let it rewarm while the rice relaxes. stir in the butter, gouda, and salt or pepper to taste.

puu's WTSIM...Bread brioche cherry pudding
(adapted from the buttercup bakery cookbook)

2 cups of brioche chunks
2 cups fresh cherries, pitted
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
sugar to taste
chocolate chips for topping (optional)

preheat the oven to 350.

mix the sugar into the eggs. scald the milk and cream together and temper with the egg-sugar mixture before pouring it all over the bread crumbs (which you have hopefully placed in a 2-quart casserole dish, otherwise there will now be a huge mess of crumbs and eggy liquid all over your kitchen counter). add cherries and chocolate chips and mix it all together so that the cherries and chocolate are evenly distributed.

bake for 45-50 minutes, or until done.


long live the unhealthy snack club

we're an office of snackers here on capitol hill. all day, all the time, someone in our office is toasting a waffle or some bread or muching on a hot dog for breakfast or a veggie burger for lunch or hoarding little bits of the random free stuff--candy, fruit, cupcakes, chips, and even beef jerky this one time--that makes its way through our office.

until one brave woman and several of her co-workers decided to fight back with the "healthy snack club." the purpose of this club was split amongst its members the duty of spending no more than $20 in a given week to bring in fresh, healthy snackables. apples, cheese, wheat things, granola, whatever, so long as it was relatively inexpensive and more healthy than the pile of ghiradelli truffles we got a few months ago, and didn't smell like the chicken fingers from the cafeteria.

and then i stepped up to the plate. i refused to join the healthy snack club, even though i'm as dedicated a snacker as they come. no, i had to take a stand! fight the power!
(or something)

so for almost two years now i've been counterbalancing the healthy snack club with the leftovers from my baking binges. usually this means cookies, but on occasion it has included cakes and cupcakes and goodness knows what else. in this most recent instance, it was brownies.

i knew last weekend that i wanted to go home on friday and relax. and even though i had a last-minute late dinner reservation to enjoy, i still determined to use a sliver of my friday to relax, bake, and fortify myself for the crazy weekend that was coming my way. i'm not really sure how the bee got into my bonnet to make brownies, exactly, except that it was in honor of a friend who always brings her fresh brownies and cookies to our office and whom i was going to meet for dinner. (naturally, the brownies weren't ready, cooled or set before i had to leave for kinkead's, but somehow i didn't let that stop me from baking away.) maybe it was the excellent new york times article from last week, all about brownies (for the record, i prefer mine on the cakey side, so none of those particular recipes especially appealed to me). at any rate, i came home on friday and spent a rapturous hour with dorie, using up all of the chocolate i could find in order to have a batch of her quintuple chocolate brownies.

and oh. my. goodness. what a result! i take it back about the cakey brownies, i swear! these were decadent and fudgy with a hint of cake and a slight taste of all five kinds of chocolate. i'll say it again--five kinds of chocolate. office reaction at first, i admit, was skepticism (probably because it was before breakfast) but as the day wore on i realized that if i were to taste my own creation i'd have to do a little hoarding of my own, because they were gone long before i packed up and headed out at 6pm.

quintuple chocolate brownies
(dorie greenspan, as published on NPR.com, from baking: from my home to yours)

Makes 16 brownies

For the Brownies

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons strong coffee

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 ounces premium-quality milk chocolate, chopped into chips, or 1 cup store-bought milk chocolate chips

1 cup chopped nuts

For the Glaze

6 ounces premium-quality white chocolate, finely chopped, or 1 cup store-bought white chocolate chips

1/3 cup heavy cream

GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Line a 9-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Sift together the flour, cocoa and salt.

TO MAKE THE BROWNIES: Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and add, in the following order, the butter, the two chocolates and the coffee. Keeping the pan over low heat, warm just until the butter and chocolates are melted — you don't want the ingredients to get so hot they separate, so keep an eye on the bowl. Stir gently, and when the mixture is smooth, set it aside for 5 minutes.

Using a whisk or a rubber spatula, beat the sugar into the chocolate mixture. Don't beat too vigorously — you don't want to add air to the batter — and don't be concerned about any graininess. Next, stir in the eggs one at time, followed by the vanilla. You should have a smooth, glossy batter. If you're not already using a rubber spatula, switch to one now and gently stir in the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated. Finally, stir in the milk chocolate chips and the nuts. Scrape the batter into the pan.

Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out streaked but not thickly coated. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the brownies rest undisturbed for at least 30 minutes. (You can wait longer, if you'd like.)

Turn the brownies out onto a rack, peel away the foil and place it under another rack — it will be the drip catcher for the glaze. Invert the brownies onto the rack and let cool completely.

TO MAKE THE GLAZE: Put the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a boil and pour it over the chocolate. Wait 30 seconds, then, using a rubber spatula, gently stir until the chocolate is melted and the glaze is smooth.

Hold a long metal icing spatula in one hand and the bowl of glaze in the other. Pour the glaze onto the center of the brownies and use the spatula to nudge it evenly over the surface. Don't worry if it dribbles over the edges, you can trim the sides later (or not). Refrigerate the brownies for about 20 minutes to dry the glaze.

Cut into 16 squares, each roughly 2 1/4 inches on a side.

SERVING: Serve straight up — whipped cream or ice cream is unnecessary with these. Well, a little ice cream is nice — why not?

STORING: The brownies can be put back in their baking pan, wrapped (without touching the glaze) and kept at room temperature for about 3 days or frozen — glaze and all — for up to 2 months.

i'm thrilled to report that this will also serve as my entry to the first ever browniebabe of the month blog event! hurrah for brownies! and babes, i suppose, who like to cook brownies (like me!!), because really, what's hotter than a girl with chocolate?! that's right...nothing, and you know it.


cooking through an april nor'easter (HHDD and WTSIM...#4)

this past weekend was all kinds of wacky--all last-minute and busy and sort of strange, but in that way that ultimately works out for the best. friday night i did dinner at kinkead's, over in georgetown. i almost never eat out, firstly, because i prefer to cook; secondly, i don't like to eat things that swim (except for duck), and kinkead's is famous for its fish menu.

you know what else kinkead's is famous for? (at least to me)

creme brulee. the chef at kinkead's does this trio of creme brulee, from a perfect vanilla bean pastry cream to some kind of seasonal fruit and if i am a particularly lucky puu, a chocolate one to complete the trilogy. this particular evening, i was in luck. don't get me wrong, i scored big time with a tender, flavorful, un-freaking-believable porcini ravioli appetizer, with a light and perfect parmesan sauce. second course wasn't quite as special, but my pork loin with citrus BBQ sauce definitely had a fantastic sort of zing to it.

but it was the creme brulee that claimed my love from the first instant i spotted it on the menu.

that was friday.

saturday was just out of control. up early on the 7.30am train to NYC to spend the day apartment shopping, only to turn around and come back on the 5.05 in order to beat the storm that was hard upon my heels. also, originally, to meet a friend for dinner, but as she turned out to be ill i ended up with a fire in the fireplace and a late-night dinner of dunkin donuts bowtie and a bowl of that new chocolate special K. i half-awoke with a start from the middle of maltese falcon when i remembered that i wanted to start a loaf of brioche so that i could have french toast for breakfast, but i decided to keep it simple, have cereal for breakfast, and turn sunday over entirely to cooking.

which i did. as i pulled my box of cereal down from the shelf, i started gathering ingredients for a chocolate chip brioche (my entry for WTSIM...Bread). i've been reading a lot about brioche lately. seems that, in addition to my own personal deprivation of bread over the past few weeks, a lot of bloggers i enjoy have been playing with brioches. (allow me to direct you, in case you've missed it, to bea's brioche adventures). my other inspiration came from one of the most beautiful coffee table books i've ever seen, the seven sins of chocolate, and which i have yet to cook from; also, my new-found need to use up as much of my kitchen as i can manage before i move back to the big apple for my new job (yeast, bread flower, and chocolate chips: check, check, check).

i've been dreaming about brioche, mostly for things like strawberry-mascarpone french toast (forthcoming), bread puddings (also forthcoming, because i've been craving it for weeks, and it's so unseasonably cold around here), and a great afternoon snack with my usual hot cocoa.

since i got off to a late sort of start with the brioche, i adapted my seven sins recipe to fit with beth hensperger's bread machine guidelines. call it cheating if you must, but i promise i used good ingredients: organic bread flour, good-quality chocolate chips (ghiradelli's, if you must know) and home-made butter straight from the farmers market.

while the brioche was rising and filing the entire apartment with that delicious bread smell, i made lunch. two lunches, actually: sunday's and monday's. i marinated a chicken breast in a quick hoisin-mirin-fish sauce combo and while it sat in the fridge, i made a pancetta and sweet potato soup that i've been saving since passover. i figured it would be good for monday lunch with a baguette or a sandwich. because of the nor'easter, i also made soup for today: chargrilled chicken, soba and miso soup with a few browned shiitake thrown in just for fun.

i was so pleased with this soup! it was warm, but light. it had flavor but wasn't sticky or gross. (wagamama hits another home run!)

before i knew it, i was cleaning up the kitchen for the third time today in anticipation of dinner and dessert: roasted duck breast with cherry confit and my HHDD entry (hosted by my fellow daring baker, Helene): a chocolate mousse duo.

again, my chocolate mousse was inspired by my seven sins lust, although lacking any milk chocolate i had to reduce the recipe's triolgy of mousses (mice?) into a duo of white and bittersweet chocolate only. i messed around with the recipe proportions in order to get a respectable serving for one, and voila.

dried cherry confit
(as published on washingtonpost.com)

  • • 1 teaspoon rendered duck fat (rendered from the pan-fried duch breast preparation)
  • • 1 medium medium shallot, finely minced
  • • 8 ounces dried cherries
  • • 2 cups Marsala or Madeira wine
  • • 1/4 finely chopped thyme leaves
  • • freshly ground black pepper
  • • salt (optional)
  • • lemon juice (optional)

Heat the duck fat in a skillet over medium heat. When the duck breasts have finished cooking and have been transferred to a plate to rest, drain all but 1 teaspoon of fat in the pan and add the shallot, cook for 2 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring until translucent. Add the dried cherries and Marsala or Madeira and increase the heat to medium to bring to a low boil. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the cherries are soft and glazed and the liquid has almost evaporated. Add the thyme, and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat; add salt to taste and a squeeze of lemon juice, if desired.

chocolate mousse duo
(adapted from the seven sins of chocolate "chocolate mousse trilogy")

2/3 cup heavy cream
1 oz white chocolate, chopped, melted and tempered
1 oz dark (bittersweet) chocolate, chopped, melted and tempered.

whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks, then divide in half. fold the white chocolate into one half and the dark chocolate into the other.

now, the recipe as written does this delightful bit of food presentation by serving each mousse of the trilogy in a shot glass, with a fruit coulis. here's the trickk--the author has put a bit of gelatin into each coulis, and layered that into the bottom of each shot glass. in the book, he pairs white chocolate with raspberry; milk chocolate with passion fruit; and dark chocolate with orange. i didn't do that. firstly, i didn't have shot glasses. secondly, i didn't have any milk chocolate, nor did i have any passion fruit. i did have gelatin, but a recipe designed for six people was overwhelming for this little puu. so i cheated. i did use raspberry and orange, but i got a little more silly with my presentation...


in depserate need of a little "peace"

it's been a rough week. to begin with, i haven't been cooking that much because i sort of exhausted myself from all of the matzo meal last weekend. walking home from work on monday night, i decided that what i really needed, above everything else, was a little bit of comfort food and that meant macaroni and cheese, dammit.

so yes, i caved on the whole passover thing a day early. but it felt SOOOO good to have the warm cheesy white sauce sliding down my throat as i read a miss marple novel and watched law and order reruns on TNT.

secondly, it's been sort of emotionally intense because after nearly half a year of being determined to quit my current job and find a new one, i finally did. on tuesday. just like that, and bam, now i have an entirely new set of worries: giving notice, finishing projects, performance anxiety, packing, cleaning, moving, finding and apartment and dealing with the PSYCHOTIC LADY WHO LIVES DOWNSTAIRS FROM ME.

i'm not her only target, i don't think, but i'm pretty sure i'm her favorite. ever since she "caught" me, over the summer, adding a bag of trash to a pile that had not--let me repeat, HAD NOT--been collected on time, she's been on a crusade to teach me about "respecting my neighbors" and "valuing my neighborhood" and making me realize that "we do not live in a slum."

yes, news flash, turns out dupont circle isn't a slum.

last week, for example, an amazon.com box got left behind by the trash collectors because, unbeknownst to me, they only take cardboard on friday. or something. at any rate, i came home to find a pile of neatly stacked cardboard and a note on top of a package that had arrived for me that morning. i took a deep breath, nobly refrained from leaving her a note telling her what she could do with the cardboard, and went on with my life.

until today. this time, it's the trash. tuesday morning, my trash got left out too late for pickup. not by me, please let me stress. my cleaning lady, who usually does an outstanding job of ridding my apartment of trash and dirt, took out the trash on her way out instead of on her way in and missed the pickup. i came home yesterday to a large note plastered on my front door, addressed to me specifically (because my psychotic neighbor had actually GONE THROUGH the trash in order to determine the culprit), reminding me that trash goes out on tuesdays and fridays. and something about rats. (in my own defense, it was an accident. and i know all about rats. i used to live in new york city. and baltimore. walking in flipflops after dark on my street used to be unwise, there were so many rats) fine. i took a deep breath. i walked upstairs. i crumpled the note in front of her door, and i decided to bring a little peace into my life.

this is all by way of saying that my only solace last night was the batch of dorie's "world peace" cookies that graced my oven racks before i went to sleep. i was fascinated by this recipe. of course, i've seen everyone blogging about it. it's true that they didn't catch my eye at first but what with passover finally being history, at least for this year, and me trying to clean out my pantry before i move, and needing to bring a snack to several hungry photographers at my studio flash photography workshop tonight, i decided that my time had come to test out this cookie recipe that is allegedly so good that a daily dose for the world could actually bring on world peace.

it took me until i was actually mixing the recipe to notice that there were no eggs. and since i didn't have any brown sugar, i decided to make some by mixing in a few teaspoons of molasses with plain white sugar. the dough mixed together in a most unusual manner, minus the eggs, and as i wrapped it in plastic in order to chill it i found myself wondering how it would ever come together. meanwhile, i fried up a cozy batch of potatoes, chorizo and sunny-side up eggs to tide me over during the 3-hour refrigeration period.

i cheated, and baked them off a little bit early, but only because i was getting tired and wanted to have dessert sometime before breakfast. once again i was surprised by the recipe. the cookies were such a peculiar consistency coming out of the oven that i felt certain i'd bollixed something up. but i had faith in dorie. and my faith was not misplaced. the cookies cooled into crunchy, chocolatey delights. i only nibbled at one, because i was trying to finish off the last of my passover brownies (and it was nearly midnight), but i felt content as i drifted off to sleep.

world peace? maybe not. but i had piece of mind for a few hours, and it was enough for me.

World Peace Cookies

Excerpted from Baking: From My House to Yours by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). Copyright 2006 by Dorie Greenspan.

Makes about 36 cookies

I once said I thought these cookies, the brainchild of the Parisian pastry chef Pierre Hermé, were as important a culinary breakthrough as Toll House cookies, and I've never thought better of the statement. These butter-rich, sandy-textured slice-and-bake cookies are members of the sablé family. But, unlike classic sablés, they are midnight dark — there's cocoa in the dough — and packed with chunks of hand-chopped bittersweet chocolate. Perhaps most memorably, they're salty. Not just a little salty, but remarkably and sensationally salty. It's the salt — Pierre uses fleur de sel, a moist, off-white sea salt — that surprises, delights and makes the chocolate flavors in the cookies seem preternaturally profound.

When I included these in Paris Sweets, they were called Korova Cookies and they instantly won fans, among them my neighbor Richard Gold, who gave them their new name. Richard is convinced that a daily dose of Pierre's cookies is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness.

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

1. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

2. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

3. Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don't be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you've frozen the dough, you needn't defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Getting Ready to Bake:

5. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

6. Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you're cutting them — don't be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

7. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won't look done, nor will they be firm, but that's just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

update: turns out my psycho neighbor is also clever. she called the D.C. department of health and they are threatening to fine me $1000. not that i can blame them, not really....


puu's passover weekend

i’ve decided not to let passover keep me from baking my way through my “cooking wish list” and made bold plans for the weekend: matzo meal profiteroles. i promise, i didn’t make it up out of the clear blue sky but saw a recipe for them on the martha stewart homepage last week. her recipe made a daunting amount of puffs, though, so i combined her recipe with a technique i found on humble pie to make a small batch of chocolate matzo meal profiteroles, with white chocolate ice cream and a “very cherry cherry” sauce (from the “seven sins of chocolate”, alice medrich’s “bittersweet”, and emily luchetti’s “passion for ice cream”, respectively and inspired by david leibovitz’s sour cherry frozen yogurt profiteroles).

this very ambitious goal also allowed me to at last test out nigella lawson’s potentially revolutionary technique of making creme anglaise (or ice cream custard base) IN THE OVEN. no more scrambled egg custard for this lil puu! perhaps at last i can stop avoiding french-style ice creams...

i’m pleased to report that the profiteroles were a success. or at least, as much of a success as anything made out of matzo cake meal and egg can ever be. it’s true, i didn’t put enough cocoa powder into the batter, and the matzo meal made the choux a bit tougher than it ought to be, i daresay, but overall i had nothing to complain about. the white chocolate ice cream--i debated pulling the recipe from either “the perfect scoop” or “bittersweet” but gave in to ms. medrich when i saw that her recipe was more easily halved--was subtle, sweet and tasty even if i did foul it up by putting too many too-large chocolate chips into it as a last-minute whim. the cherry sauce was the closest i’ve come yet to replicating one of my favorite (now discontinued) products from the williams-sonoma shelves, the sour cherry compote that american spoon used to distribute via w-s. and yes, i could mail-order it, but that got to be too much of a hassle. i found a stash of frozen farmers’ market cherries hidden in the freezer and happily put a double-handful to boil in a pot full of water, splenda and a pinch of sugar (i’ve discovered that splenda doesn’t carmelize or reduce a sauce the way that sugar does).

dinner, unfortunately, gave me less to gloat about. it seemed to elementary, to make potato gnocchi and substitute matzo meal for the flour, but oy, vey! it’s very heavy on my heart. all told, i probably only made it through three or four spoonfuls before i gave up out of self-preservation. about the only upside of the effort was that it allowed me to practice my gnocchi-making technique, which i don’t use often enough because i always think it’s more work than it ever turns out to be. all of that and i found an excuse to have my favorite starter plate (ever since i saw it on every menu in rome) of fresh mozzarella with thinly-sliced proscuitto.

my goal for today was equally ambitious, but i must confess that i gave in to the lure of frozen baked potato skins lathered in cheesy goodness and bacon bits instead of the bangers and mash i had planned on. i also skipped breakfast, except for a glass of chocolate milk, instead of trying out ms. martha’s matzo meal crepes. too much effort too early in the morning makes me tired all day. i put my time to better use by accompanying the chocolate milk with a good book (the classic “hunt for red october”) and spending the afternoon making van dyke brown prints in my bathtub (as a side note, i did finish my entire weekend’s worth of spring sanity restoration to-dos off of my list!).

dinner i scavenged out of the fridge, pulling the ingredients together for a simple but really delicious stew of curried chicken in coconut milk. unfortunately i couldn’t dish this up with the plate of jasmine rice it deserved, so i had to settle for a small serving of coconut-infused quinoa (which, since it’s not technically a grain but actually a plant of some kind, is genuinely KFP).

i HATE quinoa. but between the coconut milk and the curry-stew sauce, i found i was able to get through it. and meanwhile the chicken was tender and juicy and had just enough heat from the spices.

oh, and did i mention that i set the kitchen of fire from making matzo brei?


puu's passover challenge, day 5

my menu planning, which was seriously comprehensive as of monday and has been constantly updated since then, has been thrown off course by the fact that i missed dinner last night between my job interview and my studio flash class. this would be much more palatable--pun intended--if my lunch had not, once again, been an inedible disaster. this time i blame it squarely on kylie kwong. i think she intensely dislikes me, because this makes 4 recipes i’ve tried from her and 4 inedible disasters. i’d been saving a package of lovely ground beef to make her mongolian beef, even though, no, it’s not strictly KFP because of the shaoxing wine and goodness only knows what goes into oyster sauce (please don’t enlighten me. i’d much rather not know), but i felt that with a pile of kosher egg noodles it would pass muster.

it tasted like dog food.
which happens to be what it looked like, even with the noodles added to the mix.

so today i took it simple, enjoying my day off and working my way through my ongoing spring sanity restoration project to-do list (today’s tasks included doing the laundry, changing the sheets, cleaning out the closet, and working with my new terabyte network drive) and made a sublime little bacon turkey burger (atkins-style, with no bun) and a side order of sweet potato fries, my favorite. i had originally planned to take a leaf out of michel richard’s book and make potato “risotto” for my semi-weekly risotto dish, but i lost the will as the day went on and pulled out one last kylie recipe instead.

i swear, the only reason i did it was because of the duck breasts i had in the fridge. i couldn’t freeze them AGAIN and so i had to make use of them and here in front of me i had a duck with honey and ginger stir fry recipe. i braced myself for the worst even as i cheerfully used up the required ingredients (all, incidentally, off my list of things languishing in either my fridge or my “pantry”--and yes, i made a list, because without it i’m totally scatterbrained and inclined to stop at mcdonald’s much too often) and boiled the last of my kosher egg noodles.

you could have knocked me over with a feather as i savoured the first bite. it was light, and sweet with a hint of fire, and the duck was the perfect compliment for the honey marinade (even though kylie uses this particular marinade on all of the major meats within her book: chicken, beef, pork and duck), substantial without being heavy or meaty. even the kosher noodles (which, by the by, are a meager combination of egg and potato starch) seemed elevated by the spicy honey syrup.

for dessert, i broke out the ice cream maker for the first time all season. i pulled out the last of my stash of blood oranges (the bland ones i’ve been suffering through) and made a chocolate-blood orange sorbet (inspired by david leibovitz’s FANTASTIC book, “the perfect scoop”) to go with a plate of cacao nib meringues (inspired by a juvenile, but surprisingly delightful, book called “ice cream treats” which had a delectable photograph of the meringues sandwiching a scoop of raspberry sorbet).

so, a note about the meringues. i was emboldened to try them, even in my sucky oven, because of my recent mastery of macaroon technique, and figured that since i wussed out on SHF and used cocoa powder instead of making something nibby that i might as well give it a go. the meringues came off surprisingly well. i used my newfound egg-white-whipping expertise and a pinch of cream of tartar to make the batter and then threw in a handful of nibs. the recipe suggested that they be added after being “finely chopped” but i think, on reflection, that i should have rocked the mortar and pestle action a little bit and turned them into a powder. the nibs definitely added a deep, profound sort of flavor to an ordinarily simple cookie, but the actual experience of biting into bits of nibs (nibs of nibs, if you will) was decidedly unpleasant.


puu's passover challenge, day 3

a tagine! i finally made that lamb recipe i bookmarked in my braising book all those months ago, and spent half of sunday gathering ingredients for, and it was delightful! i was so pleased with the way the flavors combined into something really light, citrusy and special, perfect for an early spring passover dinner.

my lunches, alas, have been an entirely different and much more melancholy story. i’ve had good ideas that have been executed poorly, i’m sorry to say. take yesterday’s turkey-stuffed portobello mushrooms. a really good idea, i think, and very easy to prepare, and a great way to use some of those incredible portobellos they are always hawking at the farmers’ market, but the turkey completely dried out in the oven and when i tried to reheat them in the toaster oven yesterday i was treated to a very dry, bricklike mass of what used to be turkey meat (i loved the worcestershire-basted mushroom as a base, though). so yesterday turned into a sort of throwback to my high school days, when passover meant that lunch generally got skipped.


puu's passover challenge, day 1

growing up, i absolutely dreaded this time of year--which is really a tragedy because it's only now that the flowers begin to bud, the grass gets greener, the skies are bluer and the sun is more willing to come out and play. but ultimately i have to agree with t.s. eliot: april is the cruelest month.

although i doubt he and i use similar criteria when making that determination.

for me, it's all about passover. the dreaded eight days of the year when nothing containing or derived from chametz is permissible in a jewish kitchen. when i was little, we would take it seriously--up to a point. we'd expunge all of the flour, cereal, cookies and above all (and, in my opinion, most difficult to do without) corn syrup. and this would work for a few days, until my mother would inevitably get tired of my sister and i complaining about dinner, and would take us out for mcdonald's so long as we promised to get a hamburger and not eat the bun. my dad, usually around six days into the affair, would be so sick from the unleavened matzo that he would usually declare an end to our passover observation early.

passover was all about a damp matzo sandwich hiding in my lunch box--made damp from the sandwich meat, or the peanut butter, or whatever ingredient was selected in a futile attempt to give the stuff some flavor. it was about a matzo "pizza" or melting a piece of cheese over a few matzo crackers (again, with the dampness) and not being able to eat real pizza at my best friend's house when her mom would offer to have one delivered. by the time i was in high school and college, things had degenerated to a point where passover had turned into a sort of week-long fast. my weight, already on the dangerously skinny side, would drop even more after 8 days of near-starvation.

all of this changed when i learned how to cook, about two years ago. passover turned into this sort of challenge. i began to see that there are some interesting ways to adapt existing recipes for unleavened consumption. and i began to see that in comparison with lent, or greek orthodox lent, going atkins for a week wasn't really so bad--or difficult--in the long run.

that doesn't mean i've gotten any more amenable toward the deprivation, just that this year i decided to take a more pragmatic approach to the week. i began with my "spring sanity restoration project"--a multi-day, 3-page-to-do-list sort of spring cleaning, starting in the kitchen and working my way around the apartment (this, incidentally, is still under way, with a revised and expanded to-do list, over a week after its inception). i decided to pull out as many healthy and meatless recipes as i could manage (although i've already abandoned this in favor of using up some of the really high-quality meat i've been collecting from farmers' markets in an attempt to clean out the fridge and freezer), plan my menus carefully, do some good food shopping and even attempt some passover baking.

i'm pleased to report that after day 1, i'm doing a pretty good job. the kitchen is clean and organized, if not chametz-free. the fridge is empty except of all essentials. i wrote out a very detailed shopping list and stuck to it. and last night, in lieu of a seder, i made an israeli passover recipe i found on epicurious.com with great success.

and the baking? my passover brownies taste good enough to eat throughout the year. but i confess that i got a little over-decadent--i used the leftover scharffen-berger unrefined cocoa powder for the brownies. normally, i would never waste such a precious commodity on a mere brownie, but i figured that passover brownies could use all the help they could get! (this cocoa might not have been strictly KFP, but i figured that it stayed within the spirit of the halakha and was therefore acceptable)

roasted chicken with pomegranate sauce and potato rosti

For sauce
1 cup bottled pomegranate juice
1 cup sugar

For poussins
cut-up pieces of chicken (i used a butterflied breast, a thigh and a drumstick)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
3/4 cup roasted walnuts
2 tablespoons or more vegetable oil, for frying

For rösti:
6 baby yukon gold potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil

Make sauce
In small saucepan over moderately high heat, whisk together 1 cup water, pomegranate juice, and sugar. Bring to boil and cook, uncovered, until thick and syrupy, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Make chicken
Preheat oven to 375°F.

Rinse chicken inside and out and pat dry. Cut out necks if attached and discard. In small bowl, whisk together salt, cumin, turmeric, pepper, and saffron. Sprinkle chicken with spice mixture; press to adhere.

Set large roasting pan on stove top, straddling two burners. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and heat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in 2 batches, sear chicken until well browned, about 5 minutes per side, transferring as done to large platter and adding more oil as needed. Return chicken to pan and pour pomegranate syrup over.

Roast 15 minutes. Baste chicken with pan juices and scatter walnuts around. Roast, basting occasionally, until instant-read thermometer inserted into 1 thigh (avoiding bone) registers 170°F, about 15 minutes more.

While chicken is roasting, make rösti
In large bowl, stir together grated potato, rosemary, salt, and pepper. In heavy 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil until hot but not smoking. Pour in 1/2 potato batter and lightly press to form even layer that completely fills pan. Cook, without moving, until underside is browned, about 12 minutes. Invert large plate over skillet and flip pancake onto plate. Add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet, then slide pancake back, uncooked side down, into skillet. Cook until underside is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm, then repeat process with remaining oil and potato batter to make second pancake.

Cut into wedges and serve with chicken.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

i also added a blood orange relish as a topper for the rosti. either i have really bad blood oranges (a definite possibility) or i just don't get into making sweet fruit into savory condiments, but the flavor combination was pretty interesting and definitely went well with the pomegranate.

(adapted from a treasury of jewish holiday baking and the chocolate cake doctor)

2 cups granulated or brown sugar
1 cup ( 2 sticks) unsalted butter or unsalted Passover margarine, melted and cooled
3 eggs
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 scant cup matzoh cake meal
1/2 cup chocolate chips (not strictly KFP, i admit)
1/4 seedless raspberry jam, or seeded jam that has been melted and strained

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 7 by 10-inch rectangular baking pan, a 9-inch square pan, or an 8- or 9-inch springform pan.

In a bowl, mix the sugar into the melted butter, then the eggs, cocoa, salt, cake meal, and toasted walnuts, if using.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Drop the jam, approximately a teaspoon at a time, across the surface of the batter. Using a butterknife, swirl the jam into the batter and bake for about 25 minutes. Do not overbake. The brownies should be set and seem dry to the touch, but there should not be a crust around the sides. Cool in the pan. Cut into squares or (if baked in a round pan) into wedges.