What the World Needs Now

It’s easy to feel sort of bummed out during February. Christmas is over and January resolutions are long violated, resented, and ultimately ignored. It always seems to be the awkward temperature that’s too cold for rain but too warm for snow, leaving many pairs of shoes ruined by that gross salty grey slush. And there is always – always – some sort of build-up, expectation, and disappointment surrounding the 14th.

Valentine’s Day is weirdly one of the most polarizing holidays ever. It’s stressful for people in relationships who try to create the perfect romantic environment for their significant other. It’s sad for people who have lost their significant other or haven’t found the right one yet. A holiday that is supposed to be all about love suddenly becomes more about jealousy, anger, or self-doubt.

I love this holiday. I always have. I never have gotten over the joy I felt when every person in my second grade class exchanged little notes of appreciation. I still look forward to the Snoopy card my mom puts in the mail for me or the inevitable sugar rush from tons of up-for-grabs chocolate at work. A simple gesture goes such a long way. Loving words that don’t occur to us to say the other 364 days of the year seem to pour out of us on this one.

I could so easily not be excited about Valentine’s Day this year. I’ve gotten clobbered over the past several months in a bunch of different ways. In fact, lots of people I know have felt pretty clobbered over the last few months. The warm and fuzzy feelings are hard to tap into when our headlines and interactions have been so unkind lately. But for every moment of feeling broken or defeated, there have been people and experiences that have absolutely carried me, and those are the things I’m going to focus on during this love-filled holiday.

This February 14th, I’m going to celebrate the family and friends who build me up when I’m feeling my absolute worst. I’m going to celebrate the hobbies and passions that make me excited to get up each day. I’m going to celebrate the people who are my voice when I feel voiceless, or my fighters when I feel powerless. I’m going to celebrate the books that have stuck with me, and the meals that I’ve savored for days after the fact.

I’m going to celebrate not only the love that has been given to me but also the love I’m capable of giving. (And I’m going to start sharing the love by writing out the recipe for my lemony heart-shaped sugar cookies. Dig in!)

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Lemon Sugar Cookies

Ingeredients

1 stick butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1 tbsp milk

1 tsp lemon zest

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

Instruction

1. Combine flour, salt, lemon zest, and baking powder in medium sized bowl.

2. Cream butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Whisk in vanilla, milk, and egg.

3. Slowly add flour mixture and beat until all ingredients are incorporated.

4. Form a disk and let chill for at least half an hour.

5. Roll out dough and, using your favorite cookie cutter, punch out shapes. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, until edges start to brown. Let cool before icing.

Spread the love!

 

RumpelStilton

Port Jelly and Stilton Butter Canapés

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  1. Dissolve one packet of gelatin in 1/4 c. room temperature water. Bring 3/4 c. port to boil and pour over gelatin mixture. Whisk until gelatin has dissolved, pour into glass container and chill for several hours until completely set.
  2. Using a fork, mash together equal parts Stilton cheese and room temperature butter.
  3. Serve on water crackers.
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Tuesdays With Calamari

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Calamari:

About 6 cleaned squid, sliced into ¼-inch rings

5 cups vegetable oil

Tempura batter:

1 cup seltzer water, ice cold

1 egg white

1 cup flour

1 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp. black pepper

Dip:

Juice one lemon

½ cup mayonnaise

Salt and pepper, to taste

Fresh chives to garnish

Instruction:

  1. Heat vegetable oil to 375 degrees.
  2. Whisk lemon juice and mayo. Sprinkle with chives and set aside.
  3. Combine flour, cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Whisk egg white and combine it and the dry ingredients with seltzer until just combined (it’s okay if the batter is lumpy).
  4. Using chopsticks or a fork, coat each squid ring in the batter and fry for about a minute and a half (until light golden brown), turning midway through cooking.
  5. Serve immediately with lemon mayo.

Enjoy squid tempura with Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes!

The Picture of Dough-rian Gray

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles:

2 cups flour

½ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp water, room temp

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

10 oz. dark chocolate chips

Coating:

10 oz. dark chocolate chips, melted

Holiday sprinkles to decorate

Instruction:

  1. In standing mixer, cream butter and sugars together on high speed until fluffy.
  2. Add vanilla extract and water, then sift in flour, salt, and cinnamon on low speed until dough is smooth.
  3. Fold in dark chocolate chips until evenly distributed.
  4. Using a cookie scoop, form evenly-sized balls and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill in refrigerator for twenty minutes.
  5. In the meantime, melt chocolate chips in microwave. (I do this in twenty-second increments, stirring between each time.)
  6. Dip dough balls into melted chocolate, transfer to wire rack to allow excess chocolate to drip off, and top with festive sprinkles!

Enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough truffles with Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

The Polar Espresso

When it comes to culinary adventures, taste is the most obvious of the five senses involved. Smell is close behind, and sight is also thrown into the mix. But there are sounds that are always coming out of my kitchen that make cooking about more than what meets the eye, nostril, or tastebud. Just as the young boy who narrates The Polar Express is so affected by the ring of a small bell, I am instantly brought back to a comforting and magical place with certain sounds – the sizzling of a breadcrumbed chicken cutlet, the rhythmic slicing of risotto-bound onions, and (perhaps most importantly) the whiz of the coffee grinder first thing in the morning.

My father is a self-proclaimed coffee snob, and I am following directly in his footsteps. There is truly a difference in tasting the flavor of freshly ground beans in each sip of my morning jolt that has made me very attached to all things espresso. And so, I couldn’t resist injecting a bit of that richness into this festive holiday recipe. Merry Christmas!

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Gooey Mocha Brownies:

¼ cup cocoa powder

¼ cup espresso powder

1 tsp cinnamon

½ cup strong filter coffee, near boiling

2 oz. dark chocolate chips (and 6 oz. dark chocolate chips later on)

2 eggs, room temperature

2 additional egg yolks, room temperature

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups sugar

1 ¾ cups flour

1 tsp salt

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Instruction:

  1. Whisk cocoa powder, espresso powder, and cinnamon in coffee until smooth. Whisk in first 2 oz. of chocolate chips until melted.
  2. Whisk butter and oil into mixture. Then, add eggs, additional yolks, sugar, and vanilla extract until smooth.
  3. Sift in flour and salt and fold until completely combined. Finally, fold in the remaining 6 oz. chocolate chips.
  4. Transfer to 9×13 baking pan lined with parchment paper and sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for about half an hour, until toothpick comes out clean.
  5. After brownies have cooled slightly, carefully transfer to wire rack. To serve, stack different sized squares at 45 degree angles and dust with powdered sugar.

Enjoy gooey mocha brownies with Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Rip Van Sprinkle

Over the past several years I’ve developed a tendency toward over-organization (and have even tip-toed into the territory of pleasantly neurotic). When I can’t sleep (a problem Rip Van Winkle never had), I relax by unfolding stacks of t-shirts just so I can refold them. I make to-do lists that include “make to-do list” as the first item. And this afternoon, in a surge of Christmas cheer, I divided a container of multi-colored sprinkles one by one to extract the reds and greens. And though that is definitely forty minutes of my life I’ll never get back, the result was a perfect addition to this Christmassy dessert!

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Gingerbread Terrines

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup molasses

1 egg, room temp

1/2 cup applesauce

1 tbsp. Cognac

1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. cloves

1 tsp. salt

1 cup hot water

Instruction:

  1. Cream butter and sugar in standing mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. Gradually add in molasses, egg, applesauce, Cognac, vanilla extract.
  3. Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt into the standing mixture.
  4. Finish by gradually adding hot water and mixing on low speed until smooth.
  5. Bake in lined muffin tin 350 degree oven for about 25-30 minutes OR in a cake pan for a bit longer (until toothpick comes out clean).

 Cognac Cream Cheese Icing

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp

8 oz. cream cheese, room temp

1 oz. Cognac

2 cups powdered sugar (or more, as needed for thickness)

Pinch of salt

Instruction:

  1. Beat butter, cream cheese, Cognac, and salt until smooth. Gradually add in powdered sugar and beat until smooth and thick.
  2. Pipe onto cooled terrines or cupcakes and garnish with Christmas sprinkles!
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Enjoy gingerbread terrines and Cognac cream cheese icing with Washinton Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

The Legend of Sleepy Challah

Last weekend my friends Jennie and Zander came over for brunch. Jennie and I met over thirteen years ago, and some of our best memories have been shared over a good meal. But when we were younger, I thought Jennie’s food tastes were crazy. A life without meat or chocolate? The thought nearly knocked my head off.

But now that some time has passed, I’ve broadened my own tastes and realized that some of the best flavors on earth involve neither meat nor chocolate. In fact, one can live a perfectly pleasant existence without what I consider to be culinary staples. Take this autumnal french toast recipe: it has both sweetness and substance.

After over a decade of friendship, Jennie and I can still happily coexist with our varying palates. With the warm, hearty flavors of a satisfying brunch like this, who couldn’t love the month of October? (Except perhaps poor Ichabod Crane…)

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Pumpkin French Toast:

8 slices challah bread

4 egg yolks

2 cups milk

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1 tbsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Instruction:

  1. On parchment paper-lined baking sheet, toast bread in 300 degree oven for about five minutes on each side. Turn off oven and let bread cool.
  2. Whisk together all ingredients (when they have all been brought to room temperature) except for bread.
  3. Soak challah slices in wet mixture for twenty seconds on each side. Allow excess moisture to drip off and immediately put in buttered frying pan over medium heat. Let toast cook on each side for about three minutes, adding more butter if the pan becomes too dry.
  4. Transfer to oven (still warm from step 1) until ready to serve!

Wet Spiced Maple Pecans:

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tbsp milk

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup pecans

Instruction:

  1. Bring corn syrup, maple syrup, milk, brown sugar, and vanilla extract to a boil, whisking until smooth. Reduce to simmer and keep on heat for about five minutes.
  2. Toss pecans in spices. Pour syrup mixture over the pecans and toss until evenly coating.

Enjoy pumpkin french toast and wet maple spiced pecans with Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews.

Harry Potter and the Deathly ‘Mallows

The early 2000s were a time of wonderful weirdness for preteens. Maybe you made up a dance routine to Monster Mash in your friend’s basement. Perhaps you rocked a Limited Too pageboy hat on a fifth grade field trip. But I’d bet that the most accurate manifestation of preteen splendor would be your AOL Instant Messenger screen name and password.

While I wavered between Neopets and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats themes, my sister was always very steadfast – the username was based on a fearless Shakespearean protagonist, and the password paid tribute to one of the most entertaining characters in literature: Peeves the Poltergeist.

The ghosts were such a phenomenal part of the Harry Potter series, and though their appearances were brief and infrequent, they were always entertaining. Nearly Headless Nick was bizarrely endearing, and Peeves was hilariously pesky. JK Rowling did a wonderful job of making ghosts – in the past classically “scary” figures – into something we all looked forward to encountering as we turned the pages of the Harry Potter books.

Like the fashion and social choices we made as preteens, these meringues represent something stereotypically scary at first glance; but when you actually dive in, they’re actually quite sweet.

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Meringue Ghosts:

3 egg whites

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 oz dark chocolate chips

Instruction:

  1. In standing mixer, whip egg whites and salt until frothy. Gradually add sugar on medium-high speed and whip until you have stiff and glossy peaks.
  2. Pipe egg white mixture onto parchment paper-lined baking tray. Bake in 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes, until meringues are light brown on top. Let meringues cool completely.
  3. Melt chocolate chips in microwave in 20 second intervals, stirring between each interval. Using a toothpick or a small piping bag, pipe two dots onto the meringue as the ghost’s eyes.

Enjoy meringue ghosts with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Madame Clovery

Over the past 25 years, I’ve learned lots of things from my mother – probably because she’s told them to me again and again (and again and again). The current proverb is to always pay off my credit card in full. When I was 16 it was that not getting the lead in the boys’ school musical wasn’t the end of the world. And when I was a child, it was to at least try what was on my plate at the dinner table; I might be surprised by something delicious.

I’ve always had an aversion to vegetables, particularly the ones that sound particularly heinous, like parsnip and turnip. But – as every mother loves to hear – my mom was RIGHT! Parsnips, when cooked and seasoned properly, are sweet, warm, and autumnally satisfying. Perhaps Gustave Flaubert’s title character in Madame Bovary, who found herself hopeless and in debt, also should’ve listened to my mother. Maybe if she had paid off her credit card in full, the book would’ve had a happier ending…

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Mulled Parsnip Crisps:

8 parsnips

1 tsp ground cloves

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 star anise piece

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup olive oil

Instruction:

1. Using a vegetable peeler, peel thin strips of parsnip “ribbon.”

2. Combine all spices in vegetable and olive oils. Heat mixture for about a minute, then turn off heat to let flavors infuse.

3. Strain oil and toss parsnips in the mixture.

4. Spread chips evenly on baking sheet and bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes – until edges are golden brown. Remove and allow to cool and crisp up for several minutes.

Enjoy mulled parsnip crisps with Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Of Mousse and Men

I’ve recently started teaching part-time at my old high school to supplement the ever unpredictable life of a freelance writer. It’s very surreal walking the same hallways without my beloved green plaid kilt and trusty backpack, calling former teachers by their first names, and giving the same speeches to my own students that I used to hear seven years ago.

There were definitely high school classes that were not my strongpoint. Math was a disaster, and science was a constant struggle. While my freakishly smart classmates excelled, I had no clue what was going on 95% of the time. But like John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, often “quality over quantity” rings true. Steinbeck’s perhaps most well-known work was a novella, rather than a full-length book. Its brevity didn’t matter, because the content was what made an impression on people. As with any novel, there are many parts that fall away in one’s memory, and only the truly fascinating parts that make a lasting impact.

When I used to look back on my two years of high school chemistry, I was convinced that the beautiful science was lost on me because as a whole, the courses were overwhelming,  the concepts were huge, and the AP exams were ultimately a disaster for me. But when I think to the individual things that peaked my interest, I realize that chemistry was probably one of the more significant classes in my high school career. Perhaps it was learning how heat reacts with different fats in a cut of beef. Or maybe it’s learning that gelatin can make flavorful beads of any liquid. But I owe my chemistry teachers a big thank you, for the bits of information that have lasted the test of time, and even shaped who I am as a chef.

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Chocolate Mousse:

8 oz. dark chocolate

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

3 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup heavy cream

Instruction:

1. Over double boiler, melt chocolate, cinnamon, and salt.

2. Whip whipped cream in Kitchen Aid until soft peaks begin to form. Fold into melted chocolate mixture.

3. Begin whisking egg whites in Kitchen Aid. Meanwhile, heat sugar to 120 degrees (use instant thermometer). When sugar reaches temperature, begin pouring into egg whites as they are being whisked. Increase speed to medium and whip until stiff, glossy peaks form.

4. Lightly fold whipped chocolate cream mixture into egg whites. Transfer to piping bag and pipe into ramekins. Chill in refrigerator for at least three hours.

Limoncello caviar:

1 cup limoncello

1/2 oz. gelatin powder

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Instruction:

1. Put vegetable oil in freezer for about twenty minutes. Remove right before you are ready to make the beads.

2. Bring limoncello and gelatin powder just to a boil (allow powder to dissolve) and turn off heat. Using an eye dropper, squeeze drops of the liquid onto the frozen oil. Beads will form and begin to sink to the bottom.

3. Allow beads to sit for several minutes as they continue to sink. GENTLY use a strainer to discard the oil, and place strainer on top of a paper towel to soak up the rest of the oil surrounding the beads.

Whipped Cream:

1/2 cup whipping cream

2 tbsp sugar

Instruction:

1. Begin whipping cream on low speed. Increase to medium speed and gradually begin to add sugar. When stiff peaks form, transfer to piping bag to garnish mousse.

Enjoy chocolate mousse and limoncello caviar with John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!