dinosaur fossil cookies

April 19, 2017

Do you guys remember what you wanted to be when you grew up?

This was something I found myself asking a ton of my friends as I started writing this post. The responses were all hilariously sweet:

"A roller coaster engineer and divorcee who lived in New York City," said Tracy.
When I asked why, she simply said 'because roller coasters are cool'. And that her 6-year-old-self didn't believe that love could last forever. Hm. 

"The First Female President," said Meredith.
Good news, Mer — you can STILL be the first female president! 😢

"Something in math," said Molly, who then explained that she once kicked a hole in the wall because she was frustrated with her calculus homework.
No comment.

If I'm being honest, I don't entirely 100% remember myself, lol. I do know that I went through different phases — nothing really logical or significant, they were mostly determined by what I happened to think was superfreakingawesome at the time. Like that time I wanted to be a stewardess (because planes are cool!), and another in which I wanted to be a dentist (because I was too young to realize that going to the dentist actually terrifies me).

There is one childhood dream of mine that does stick out though. There were a few months in my life in which I wanted to be an archeologist. I blame Jurassic Park. Although the movie frightened the daylights out of me (seriously, that scene where the T-Rex gets loose and wreaks havoc on the cars was pretty scary as a 6-year-old), I was still enamored by all the dinosaurs. That year, instead of requesting the usual Barbies and Polly Pockets for birthday and Christmas presents, I wanted dinosaur books, figurines, and eggs.

Of course, you guys know the rest of the story. I did NOT become an archeologist. In fact, the closest I will ever came to archeology in my adult years are these dinosaur fossil cookies.

And in order to fulfill my childhood dream, I decided to have some fun and create an edible archeological site! I first made the fossil cookies, and then created a "dig site" by burying them in layer upon layer of Oreo crumbs, topped off with "desert plants" (ehem, baby broccoli). I then used some very scientific and highly accurate archeological tools (ehem, a pastry brush) to unearth my beloved cookies:

As for the cookies themselves, think of them as a cross between a salty Oreo and one of those royal icing cookies that have taken over Instagram. I'm embarrassed to tell you how long it took to ice each cookie (though those of you who follow me on Instagram Stories probably saw my low-level breakdown while doing so), but I'm even more embarrassed to say how quickly it took for the cookies get eaten. Enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • The cookie recipe is based on a Thomas Keller one for homemade Oreos ("TKOs"), as also seen this homemade Oreo recipe from 2013 and my friend Steph's Corgi Oreos. Because it's Thomas Keller and he's meticulous to a fault (he allegedly hired ballerinas to train staff on how to move around gracefully at The French Laundry and Per Se), the ingredient quantities are super weird and precise. Just go with it. It's worth it, I promise. Be sure to use Dutch-processed cocoa (as opposed to natural — I like Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa) so that the cookies turn out midnight black! 

  • To stamp out the dinosaur shapes, I used these cookie cutters that also included stencils for the fossils/bones. I'm not artistic at all, and probably wouldn't have been able to come up with this bone design if it weren't for the stencils. When stamping out the cookies, it's a lot easier to ice if the cookies are thicker and have more prominent outlines for the bones. I'd aim for a cookie dough stamping surface that is about 1/4-inch thick. That being said, if you're confident in your icing skills and want cookies that taste more like Oreos, I'd aim for a cookie dough stamping surface that's slightly thinner at about 1/8-inch thick.

  • Before burying the cookies in your archeological dig, just make sure that the icing on the cookies is 100% dry, otherwise you'll have soggy cookies and a sticky mess that won't be easily brushed away. I ended up burying my dinosaur fossil cookies in super-processed Oreo and Golden Oreo crumbs, but really, you can use any sort of cookies you prefer. There are also many ways to decorate the top of the cake once the fossil cookies have been buried — you can use vegetables (I used broccolini), edible flowers, chocolate rocks, and more! If you're feeling particularly ambitious, you can even make marzipan succulents like my friend Molly on her cute lil' cake

caramel rum banana bread + dining at eleven madison park

April 12, 2017

A few weeks ago, I spontaneously bought reservations to Eleven Madison Park.

If you're unfamiliar with Eleven Madison Park, here's a quick summary from Eater. TL/DR: it's one of the few restaurants in the United States that has three Michelin stars, and, was recently determined to be the best restaurant in the whole entire world (well — according to this list). It's also the sort of restaurant that makes you pay to eat there beforehand, because at $300 a head (that's without alcohol — wine pairings are another $200 a pop!), it's not exactly what you would call an impulse buy. In fact, I'm probably the only idiot in their entire history who was idly browsing through their reservations system (which sell out fairly quickly for prime dinner slots), saw a random Sunday afternoon opening, and pulled out her credit card to purchase two tickets on the fly. I don't know really know what overcame me. Despite what my mom says, I'm not really much of of a spendthrift. I agonize over purchases that cost more than $100, dragging my feet for months in an effort to will the product to go on sale. I have never shelled out for an Economy+ seat, even for international or overnight flights. I don't believe in spending money for an "exercise top", instead going to the gym in unflattering and shapeless t-shirts left over from tech conferences.

But maybe it's because the restaurant is located at the bottom of my office building, and walking by it everyday had me wondering about its hallowed walls on a daily basis. How strange it was, that while I hunched over at my desk puzzling over our plans to transition to a new marketing automation tool, people several floors below me were dining on a sumptuous meal of truffles, foie gras, and lobster. There was also the fact that Dan, one of my good friends from college who is discerning about the same things as I am, had taken his wife there for her birthday years ago. They were both still raving about the experience. "They figured out we were celebrating her birthday without us telling them!" he exclaimed, impressed by what could only be their sleuth Facebook stalking skills. Plus the restaurant had recently announced that they were closing this summer — right when my 30th birthday happened to be, the only event that could potentially justify a $1000 meal for two people — for an indefinite amount of time for renovations. "Don't worry!" they cheerily said. "We'll have a pop-up in the Hamptons!" It was clear who they were trying to placate, and that definitely did not include folks like me.

All of those things combined to me pulling out my credit card on some random Friday afternoon, and us walking through Eleven Madison Park's brass revolving door a few weeks later. And while we weren't greeted by name, we certainly did find ourselves dining on luxuries like caviar benedict with smoked sturgeon and pickled egg yolk, butternut squash roasted in bone marrow, and honey lavender glazed duck. The food itself was exemplary; I found myself enjoying vegetables I usually avoided. To wit — I've never once cared for rutabagas, finding their flavor sharply bitter and one-dimensional. But at Eleven Madison Park, when served with celery and walnuts, the root took on a new texture and flavor akin to an oyster: the hors d'oeuvre was sweet, subtle, and all too fleeting.

The service itself was exceptional and attentive, to the point of being almost clairvoyant. At one point, I was low-level convinced that they were actually bugging all the tables. Because shortly after I wondered about the ingredients in my cocktail, a server appeared out of nowhere, handing me the cocktail menu without comment (presumably so I could double-check its contents). A few courses later, I whispered to Erlend about how, although I was enjoying the food, I personally wasn't sure if all the pomp and circumstance was for me, our next course was served in a more minimalist style. The server casually remarked that although it was one of their less decorative courses, it was one of his favorites regardless; he then subtly nodded in my direction. It was probably coincidence, but honestly — I'M NOT SURE. Just like how I'm still not sure if it was coincidence that, when they took us into the kitchen for a quick tour, it was their pastry chef who came up to greet us for a demo.

Overall, it was a once in a lifetime experience that I would do again (if I'm ever hit by that bout of temporary insanity that drove me to buy reservations in the first place). But it also taught me something I'd long suspected about myself, but never had the chance to really confirm until our time at Eleven Madison Park: fine dining isn't my style. While the rest of the people our age who had also splurged for a reservation arrived in ties and heels, I walked in wearing jeans and a leather jacket. And the meticulous service, instead of making me feel pampered and important, left me feeling slightly embarrassed and fraudulent more than anything else.

It made me realize that, yes, while a $300 meal has its merits and is worth occasionally splurging on, it does not actually bring me 100 times more joy than the $3 hot dogs I used to get at the German butcher near my college campus. Although I chronicled the whole experience through Instagram stories, I realized that none of the food served would fit in with the rest of my Instagram feed. All of it was beautiful and complex, but each plate looked more like works of modern art than something that looked tasty. Because at the end of the day, to me, there is nothing more delicious and appealing than a simple baked good like this rustic banana bread: rich with rum flavor and studded with caramel chunks for extra goodness.



Some baker's notes:
  • For the best banana bread, use bananas that are so spotty and ripened that they almost look more black than yellow. In a pinch, you can ripen bananas faster by pulling them apart from their original bundle and placing them all together in a brown paper bag. Roll the bag to a tight close, put it in a warm place, and wait a few days — the banana skins emit a kind of gas that speeds up the ripening process, and you're basically taking all that gas and sealing it in to create a hyper-ripening environment. Congratulations! You just scienced the shit out of your bananas.

  • This recipe instructs you to throw chunks of soft caramel candy into the banana bread batter; the caramel melts, infusing the banana bread with caramel flavor. Don't use the hard caramel candies that you suck on — you need one that's soft and chewable, like these varieties. I personally chopped up pieces from this giant caramel block from King Arthur Flour. It's important to toss the pieces in a little bit of flour before throwing them into the batter to help prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the loaf; don't skip this step! 

no-bake peanut butter cookies (vegan + gluten-free)

April 5, 2017

The other day, while sitting at a coffee shop with a friend, she looked over to my laptop and saw that I was running through my subscription of food blogs on Feedly. I subscribe to many — I think the number of blogs in the "Food" category on my account exceeds 100 — and my friend was surprised to find that, in addition to the regular cooking and baking blogs, I followed a fair amount of vegan, gluten-free, and other special diet focused ones.

"But you're not even vegan!" she exclaimed, as she scrolled through at least five vegan blogs. "What's the point of subscribing to these if you're not even going to cook from any?" I started to protest, but she was right — with the exception of that month in which I went refined sugar-free, I have never adhered to any sort of special diet. I tend to cook with whatever ingredients I have on hand in my pantry; if the resulting dish happened to be vegan or gluten-free, it was accidental, never on purpose.

I explained that, truth be told, despite the majority of the blogs I follow, it was surprisingly rare that I actually cooked from any of them. Not out of disinterest — it's more that, with all my baking, I am a surprisingly minimal and lazy cook, working with whatever I happen to have on hand and never following a recipe unless it's for a special occasion. I tend to bake more from the baking blogs that I follow, but even those recipes get put on the backburner a lot because I've got my own to share.

Instead, I followed them all for inspiration.

As the words came out of my mouth, I realized how cheesy I sounded. But it's 100% true. One of the things I really enjoy about blogging is that it has exposed me to a wide network of people who are exceedingly kind, talented, and creative. Although us bloggers are technically "competing" in the same space, for the most part, everybody is incredibly supportive and generous. We're united by the same thing: a love of food, and our understanding of how it can bring people together. And even if the food is different from my own preferences — either because it's a special diet I don't follow, or it's a type of cuisine I'm not particularly familiar with, or whatever else — I still have so much love and admiration for it. Maybe even more so, because it allows me to see methods and ingredients that I wouldn't naturally gravitate to myself.

In fact, some of my favorite blogs are the folks whose cuisine is markedly different from mine. Laura Wright from The First Mess is one such example. Her blog, her photographs, and her writing are all beautiful, but her food is even more so. Even though I'm probably the least vegany blogger out there — it took me a really long time to like vegetables, and even now, I'm picky about which ones I like — I found myself bookmarking almost every recipe in her new cookbook. All of it was just so inspirational, with every page full of new-to-me processes, ingredients, flavor pairings, and more.

These peanut butter no-bake cookies are from The First Mess Cookbook. I was drawn to them because, as a baker, it's rare that I don't bake things. I'm also not the world's biggest fan of peanut butter, though I'm trying to change that. But still — something about their simplicity and their rusticness called out to me. Indeed, the cookies came together fairly easily with minimal equipment, and reminded me of a cashew cookie-flavored Larabar with a more peanut and almond tilt. Laura's use of just a hint of lemon is absolutely genius, cutting the sweetness of the dates and peanut butter and infusing the cookies with a subtle, citrus flavor. Enjoy!

also featured:

Some baker's notes:
  • For this recipe, it's important to use raw almonds. Not blanched! Blanched almonds won't have as much moisture as raw ones, and that moisture is essential for holding the cookies together. These cookies don't have a binder aside from peanut butter, processed dates, and the natural oils from the nuts. The more moisture, the better! It's also important not to skip the first step of the recipe, which instructs you to soak your dates, to get as much moisture as possible.

  • If you find that your dough isn't sticking together, keep pulsing the mixture in a food processor more! You'll need to pulse them for longer than you think. 

  • And if it really won't hold its shape, you can cheat and throw in a tablespoon of maple syrup or melted coconut oil. Honey works too, but the cookies will no longer be vegan. Keep pulsing until the ingredients are pretty processed and the dough is homogeneous and not grainy at all. Patience is a virtue.

classic yellow cake with chocolate crème fraîche frosting

March 29, 2017

Spring is sorta here (despite that weird snowstorm we had a few weeks ago), and it seems that everybody is ready to play! After spending the winter inside, holed up at home in front of Netflix and ordering far too much takeout, I am making up for lost time. In the last few weeks I...

... enjoyed a bowl of poached eggs and butter fried English muffin croutons at a really cute Egg Shop with one of my blogging besties, Alana! She was in town for a super secret fun project that I'm very excited about! We rode the subway together and I showed her the Nutella bar at Eataly. She left us a box of her homemade furikake snax which Erlend and I promptly got into a fight over because it's so good and he was eating too much of it.

... feasted all the fried chicken at a restaurant of a former Top Chef chef with my friends Cale and Kyle! (The fried chicken was just okay though).

... grabbed a fancy dinner with Erlend and his parents at Cafe Altro Paradiso! I drank a lot of prosecco and have no regrets. I also ate a lot of delicious, buttery pasta and lived my best self (despite the rather horrifying number on my bathroom scale).

... made my own dim sum at Tuome with my new friends Matt and all my new friends! It turns out I am not very much of a siu mai folder, but it doesn't make the dumplings any less delicious.

... finally hung out and traded stories with Rachel, the awesome boss lady behind tahini/halva magic land, Seed + Mill! She gave me a giant box of halva samples and I died of deliciousness.

... ate my very first cronut! Even though I am several years behind the hype, I still had to pre-order it three weeks in advance and make a 40-minute detour on my commute to go pick them up. The flavor was blackberry brown sugar toffee!

And this weekend, I am blowing half a paycheck to dine at Eleven Madison Park! I'll report back, I promise.

With all the happenings, I am finding it very hard to find time to bake... with the exception of this cake! A few weeks ago, my friends at Vermont Creamery sent me a case of all their best ingredients, including tubs of my favorite vanilla bean crème fraîche. One of my favorite frostings of all time is this chocolate crème fraîche frosting — it's incredibly deep and silky, more akin to a ganache than traditional chocolate frosting. The last time I used it on a cake was in 2014, when I paired it with a chocolate cake for my mom's birthday. This time around, I wanted to pair it with a classic yellow one. It was delicious and I would do it again.


Some baker's notes:
  • For the yellow cake recipe, I used Sarah Kieffer's recipe from The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. To make this cake, Sarah uses the reverse creaming method. Unlike the standard creaming method where sugar and fat are beaten together to create air in the batter, the reverse creaming method calls for all the fat to be added to the dry ingredients at the start. Doing so creates a more delicate and tender crumb, as opposed to a lighter one. You can read more about the science over at The Cake Blog and this awesome post by Joe Pastry

  • If you're a close reader of my blog, you'll know that I've used this crème fraîche frosting before. It's one of my all time faves — it's deep and decadent, more similar to a chocolate ganache than a fluffy frosting. At first, it's super liquidy, but will solidify as it comes to room temperature. As it cools, there's a perfect point somewhere where the chocolate is still lukewarm and will be just perfect for spreading smooth surfaces. But if you wait too long, it can solidify fairly quickly and be too difficult to spread. If this happens, just pop it in the microwave for 5 to 10 second intervals until the mixture warms up again. And yes, in a pinch, you can use sour cream instead of crème fraîche for a slightly tangier flavor. 

  • I decorated the cake with these crunchy pearls (toasted rice cereal dipped in chocolate!) that Valrhona kindly sent me. I'm completely obsessed! They come in four flavors — dark chocolate, milk chocolate caramel, dulcey white chocolate (which I have a love affair with), and white chocolate. All are delicious and are totally worth seeking out to add an extra special crunch to your cake. I have totally been eating them by the handful by myself in a dark corner, pretending that calories don't exist. Ehem. 

chocolate chip cookie sticks

March 22, 2017

Does it seem like the mood has been kinda gloomy around here lately? First this grumpy post, followed by a failed recipe. Bah! It's time to cheer up (buttercup)!

Luckily, the recipe I've got for you today does exactly that. Chocolate chip cookie sticks! These babies are a cross between a chocolate chip cookie and a shortbread one. Warm and fresh out of the oven, they taste like the beloved chocolate chip cookies we all love. But as they cool, they take on the texture of a buttery, crumbly shortbread studded with mini chocolate chips. They're so utterly addicting that I ate about a quarter of the pan in one sitting.

They're from my dear friend Christina's newish cookbook, Sweet & Simple. Christina and I met last year on a business trip during a somewhat challenging client partnership. And even though I was a total zombie the day we met, almost incoherent with jet lag (I'm not joking about this; I'd flown in from Copenhagen the night before, and I was absolutely awful in the interview we filmed that day) and wearing my really dorky granny glasses from ten years ago, Christina stuck by my side and tolerated my incredibly lame jokes. We've stayed in touch since that trip, commiserating and laughing about our crazy blog lives.

Not only is Christina the sweetest and most hilarious person ever, but she's also one of the most talented bakers I know. She scales down all her recipes so that they come out in small batches, with servings and portions enough for just two people. Do you guys realize how hard it is to actually pull that off?! Baking is a lot more scientific than cooking — even the smallest changes in ingredient quantities can affect the whole recipe's ratios and entire chain of chemical reactions, leading to sunken cakes, rock-hard cookies, and other potential baking disasters. Her recipes are incredibly clever, making whole cakes out of loaf pans and using different substitutes for eggs. Seriously; go check out her blog if you haven't done so already!


Some baker's notes:
  • Use mini chocolate chips in this recipe! According to Christina's notes for the recipe in the book, her very scientific recipe testing (😉) concludes that mini chocolate chips equate to more chocolate per bite. I am very, very down with that.

  • I found it a little hard to tell when the bars were cooked; the center remained quite yellow and pale for me. Don't you dare overcook it though, or you'll end up with a brittle texture that will make me sad for you. Stick with the recommended cooking time of the recipe — a tell-tale sign will be when the edges have brown lightly and set. It's okay if the center is still a little poofy and soft; it will solidify as it cools.
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