4/15/14

Whole-Wheat Brown-Sugar Sticky Buns

above photo by Jonathan Lovekin via MarthaStewart.com
When I first saw these sticky buns in Martha Stewart, I made fun of them; I mean, you can maybe feel a little healthier about opting for a whole-wheat sticky bun versus one made completely with white flour, but at the end of the day, you're still eating a sticky bun. And yet, when I decided to have some pals (and their babies) over for brunch on Saturday, my brain was like: Remember those whole-wheat sticky buns? Those sure did look good!

Still, I wasn't completely sold on them until I read a few other sticky bun recipes and decided that these "healthier" ones actually seemed like the least amount of work. Teddy's a little over three months now, and even though my mom was in town visiting for the week and helping out a ton (Thanks, Mom!), a low work to high taste-reward ratio is still a major factor when choosing recipes these days.
The only thing I didn't like about this recipe was that it didn't mention letting them do their final rise overnight in the refrigerator so that in the morningwhen one typically eats a sticky bunall you have to do is bring the dough to room temperature and bake it. But even without Martha's express permission, I took the overnight-rise approach anyway. 
And well, while I really loved these sticky buns and would make them again, they were a little dense. My first thought was to blame the whole wheat flour. But perhaps they didn't rise properly overnight (though I know I've done this before with success). I don't think substituting ground flax seeds for the wheat germ did it, but maybe?
Point being, the brunch was so much fun even if Teddy did have a minor meltdown at the beginning. And I know what you're thinking: What? No photo of Teddy to round out this post? Sorry! The good news is that Matt and I recently shot a bit of an epic video attempt for part of a super fun, network-wide collaboration for PBS Digital Studios that features Teddy in a big way. It won't run until early May (can't wait to share it with you!), but in the mean time, if you need to see exactly what Teddy is up to (and who doesn't?), go here!
p.s. I am up to date with Game of Thrones and all I can say/ask is: WHO DID IT?!
p.p.s. (Relatedly?) My friend Kate's book, American Afterlife, is out! Go ahead and get yourself a copy today!

Whole-Wheat Brown-Sugar Sticky Buns from Martha Stewart (with a couple of notes from me)
makes 10

dough:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for bowl
1 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
2 tablespoons toasted wheat germ (or ground flax seed?)
1 1/8 teaspoons active dry yeast (from 1/2 envelope)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 large egg, beaten

filling/topping:
1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Lightly brush a medium bowl with butter; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough attachment, combine flours, wheat germ, yeast, salt, brown sugar, water, egg, and butter. Mix on medium-low speed, scraping sides and bottom of bowl once, until dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Brush a 9-inch round cake pan with butter; set aside. In a medium bowl, stir together butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt until smooth and fluffy. Spread half of mixture over bottom of pan; sprinkle with half of pecans.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Gently roll into a 10-by-14-inch rectangle. With an offset spatula, spread remaining brown-sugar mixture on top, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Sprinkle with remaining pecans. Starting at a long edge, roll up dough like a jelly roll, then cut crosswise into 10 pieces. Place pieces in pan cut-side down, spaced evenly. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until buns are just touching and almost doubled in size, about 1 hour. (Or like I did, overnight in the refrigerator. Just bring them to room temperature before baking in the morning.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake buns until golden brown and topping is bubbling around sides of pan, about 25 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes. With a serving plate centered over pan, hold plate and pan together and carefully flip over. Lift off pan and scrape out any remaining topping onto buns. Serve immediately.
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4/6/14

Roast Lemon Chicken Soup

I like to have a project. Many friends and readers have offered kind, virtual high-fives for finishing my book and shooting cooking/dancing videos while taking care of a newborn. And while I'd love to credit my work ethic, the truth is that I'm uncomfortable not having a project. This has become even clearer to me since I handed in the final draft of the book about ten days ago and have missed it like one misses his or her morning cup of coffee or nightly glass(es) of wine. Where's my project? I practically whine as I sit down at my computer in the morning, unsure of what to start working on next.
The other day, I read this great essay about sleep in which the writer's South African boyfriend says to her: "'You Americans don’t know how to rest... You rest only to work better.'"

"It’s true," she admits. "And it underpins our current obsession with sleep: We want to sleep more now not because we value sleep more on its own terms, but because we are so fixated on productivity."

Though I haven't struggled with insomnia since getting pregnant (major perk!), during these past ten days, with neither a job to report to nor a new writing project to immerse myself in, I have definitely felt fixated on productivity, or my lack thereof. Perhaps you're thinking: What about Teddy? Immerse yourself in that! And I definitely do; I'm head over heels for my three-month old sweetie pie, but I also love writing, creating things, and dancing to YouTube videos. (Plus, babies sleep a lot. Fact: Teddy's asleep right now.)

This isn't exactly new territory for me: not knowing how to rest. Or rather, not knowing how to rest without feeling guilty. Or without thinking about how this resting period is serving me, how it's ultimately helping me gear up for the next project.
One of the changes in Matt's and my life since Teddy was born is in the kinds of dinners we eat. Since Matt comes home around 7pm, I'm usually making dinner during Teddy's fussiest time of the day (between 6 and 8pm). And so, even though I used to make lots of simple weeknight meals, I make even simpler ones these days, e.g. baked sweet potatoes (with butter and salt), baguette slices, and a salad; or kimchi fried rice (which maybe doesn't sound simple but if you have kimchi on hand and a rice cooker, it comes together in minutes); or pre-made chicken sausages and onions.

But recently I've found myself craving meals with a bit more depth, meals that require more time to come together. Hence, this chicken noodle soup, which I made Saturday afternoon while Matt hung out with Teddy.

My go-to chicken soup recipe is one by Alice Waters, but I liked the sound of this one from Martha Stewart, which has you roasting a chicken with lemon slices and shallots and then adding the pan drippings to the simmering broth. I liked this idea because I haven't roasted a chicken in months and because I still have plenty of preserved lemons in my refrigerator and thought they would be a nice substitution for the called-for lemon slices. I also thought it would be pretty to throw some rainbow carrots on the roasting pan (and to switch out the called-for rice with classic egg noodles).

And as I suspected, the soup-making process was satisfying, as were the results. The soup is everything you'd expect from comforting, chicken noodle soup only with the addition of a bright, citrus-y note.

As for my cliched-American relationship with rest and work? I don't have a solution yet. Perhaps it will work itself out when we have baby number two and I'll be too exhausted to even read interesting essays that make me ponder this sort of thing?
Roast Lemon Chicken Soup adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 6

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
8 cups chicken stock
shredded chicken from Roast Lemon Chicken (recipe below)
Roast preserved lemon, onions, carrots, and pan juices from Roast Lemon Chicken
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 lb. dried wide egg noodles

Bring stock to a simmer in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, chop carrots and onions into bite-size-ish pieces. Add the shredded chicken, lemons, chopped carrots, chopped onions, and pan juices to the stock. Continue to simmer. Cook egg noodles according to packaging. Drain and add to the soup. Remove from heat. Stir in chopped parsley. Taste, adding more salt and pepper if needed.

Roast Lemon Chicken
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
2 chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on (As you can see, I also had four drumsticks on hand so added those to the pan as well.)
1 preserved lemon, chopped
1 yellow onion, sliced into four or five thick rounds
5 or 6 peeled whole carrots

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Place half the chopped preserved lemon on top of the oil. Place the chicken on top of that and rub the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Add the onion slices and carrots to the pan, making sure they're fairly coated in olive oil as well. Top everything with the rest of the chopped preserved lemon.

Roast everything for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin. Shred the chicken and set aside until you're ready to make the soup.
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3/24/14

Dance While Your Baby Sleeps



Some of youreferring to the cover I did of Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend"recently commented that it was time for me to do another music video attempt. But honestly, in the last three years, the thought has barely crossed my mind. OK, maybe it did once or twice while watching Beyonce's "Drunk in Love." (Sidebar: while I could stare at Beyonce all day long, I have mixed feelings about her visual album! I know. People are totally going to Internet-kill me for saying that.)

Anyway, like I said, I thought that the Robyn video was the beginning and end of my foray into covering music videos/performances. But then, major inspiration hit when I saw Future Islands, one of my favorite bands (their album On the Water is one of those where, in my opinion, every single song is awesome) perform their latest release on Letterman, and within minutes, I was sending Matt the link and asking him where we could find a bunch of cheap blue lights so that we could attempt this video at home this weekend. (Uhm, if you look very carefully, you can see the two blueish lights in the left of the frame.)

I was probably also encouraged to have some fun this weekend by the fact that earlier in the week, I sent in the final draft of my book and therefore, I knew I could spend some time celebrating / dancing. Oh and also, in the five year history of this site, I don't think I've ever plugged a product that was sent to me, but I gotta say that the Gir spatula makes for a really great microphone, and, truth be told, a pretty awesome spatula too.

OK, byyye!
p.s. If you're new to the site, see below for the video that started this mess!
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3/18/14

Bear Cake

I've had my eyes on this bear cake for just about two years now (since the May 2012 issue of Martha Stewart Living to be exact). So when it was time to help throw my good friend Jodi's baby shower, I knew which task I wanted to volunteer for. ("Uhm, Hi. If no one else is already making a bear cake, I could do that?")

Honestly, for a Martha Stewart-based endeavor, this actually wasn't that hard, provided you give yourself two afternoons to make it and don't skip the step of sifting the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder that goes into the icing. Otherwise, it may take you over an hour to pipe all of that fur onto the bear's body as the decorating tip will continue to get blocked up and you will have to stop every thirty seconds to unclog it and shake your hand out so as to prevent it from cramping.
The other important tip I have is to cut out all of the paper pieces from the template and lay out a paper version of the cake ahead of the time. This will help you find and/or acquire something big enough to put the cake on and yet small enough that it will still fit into your refrigerator. For me, this meant using the largest cutting board I own and then chopping down (manicuring? stubbifying?) the bear arms so that the paws weren't sadly hanging off the sides. 
If you have to transfer the cake to someone else's house, I would also recommend hiring a driver (Gyuri perhaps? Sorry, sorry. Weird Goldfinch reference. I'm in The Goldfinch zone as I have book club tonight and only 50 pages left!) so that you can sit with it resting on top of your lap.

In non-cake news, Teddy celebrated his big nine-week birthday this weekend and got to meet his uncle! Surely you remember my brother Bill from the fish tacos video, right? Well, as you can see, the two of them really hit it off.
OK, back to The Goldfinch... byeee!

For recipes and step-by-step bear-cake instructions, go here!
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3/9/14

Mexican Corn-and-Poblano Soup

My decision to make this recipe was based solely upon the above gorgeous photo. I then mindlessly wrote down the ingredients and grocery shopped. So it wasn't until I was halfway through making it and tasted it that I began to worry about how flavorful it was going to be.

What I'm trying to say is that I was pretty underwhelmed with this soup. I also probably made a misstep with the scallions, although I'm not completely sure because I still don't know if the directions were telling me to char the chopped green parts of the scallion (which I did) or the un-chopped white parts. (See below directions and feel extremely free to chime in.)
Point being, if I were to make this again, I would definitely substitute the water for vegetable or chicken broth. I would also throw in at least one chopped chile en adobo as the poblanos themselves didn't add enough heat for me. And what about some lime, huh, Martha?
That said, this is another recipe I made pre-Teddy, so perhaps it was pregnancy messing with my taste buds, especially since Matt liked it a lot more than I did.

In other news, Matt took some photos in honor of Teddy's 6-week birthday (two weeks ago) and here are a few of the results. He's looking good, right? Almost as good as The Good Wife. For those of you concerned, we are now well into season 4 and I'm getting a little worried about what's going to happen when we run out of episodes. I'm also halfway through The Goldfinch, which I'm reading on my phone (which is the only way to read a book and hold a baby at the same time) and I must say that I totally get what all the hype is about. I also need to finish it by next week since that's when my book club is meeting. Wish me luck! xo
Mexican Corn-and-Poblano Soup via Martha Stewart
3 scallions
1 large white onion, quartered lengthwise, root end kept intact
2 large fresh poblano chiles (8 ounces)
1 pound frozen corn kernels, thawed and drained (about 3 1/3 cups), divided
1 tablespoon coarse salt
3 cups plus 3 tablespoons water, divided (as mentioned above, I would try substituting vegetable or chicken broth here)
2 tablespoons fine cornmeal or masa harina
Queso fresco cheese, crumbled, for sprinkling

Cut dark-green tops off scallions, and finely chop. Preheat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Place scallions, onion, and chiles in skillet, and cook, undisturbed, until charred on bottom, about 5 minutes. Turn vegetables with tongs, and cook, undisturbed, until charred on other side, about 5 minutes. (Vegetables can also be broiled on a baking sheet.)

Transfer scallions to a blender. Continue turning and charring chiles and onion until charred on all sides, 5 to 10 minutes more. Remove skillet from heat. Transfer onion to blender.

Transfer chiles to a bowl, cover immediately with plastic wrap, and let steam 15 minutes. Peel and discard charred skin from chiles, and remove stems and seeds. Halve chiles lengthwise, and slice crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick strips.

Add 2 1/2 cups corn, the salt, and 2 cups water to blender. Puree until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer puree to skillet. Stir in remaining corn and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 8 minutes.

Whisk together cornmeal and remaining 3 tablespoons water. Stir into soup along with chiles, and simmer until it has the consistency of porridge, about 2 minutes.

Divide soup among 6 bowls; garnish with chopped scallion greens, and sprinkle with cheese. Soup can be refrigerated 2 days; let cool completely before refrigerating. Gently reheat in a covered pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
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