30 before 30: Thin Mints

30 before 30: Thin Mints

Oh my.

30 before 30: Thin Mints

This may have been one of the most indulgent recipes I’ve ever made.

30 before 30: Thin Mints

I mean, homemade Thin Mints. Look at that chocolate!

30 before 30: Thin Mints

Making Thin Mints at home is clumsy, messy, a bit time-consuming, and, well, sticky. Is it worth it? YES.

30 before 30: Thin Mints

We spent an afternoon tempering chocolate and dipping cookies, and brought the cookies to a friend’s birthday party that evening. They were a huge hit. I brought them to a meeting the next day. They were a huge hit. Sensing a pattern here?

30 before 30: Thin Mints

A caveat: these cookies should be kept cool. When we brought the cookies to the aforementioned birthday party, the cookies became a bit messier to eat as the night went on, as the chocolate had a tendency to melt all over people’s fingers.

No biggie. No use crying over some melted chocolate.

In case you were wondering: just like the original Girl Scouts’ version of this cookie, the homemade Thin Mint tastes even better after being stored in the freezer.

30 before 30: Thin Mints

For this piece of 30 before 30, I used the Thin Mint recipe posted on the Tastespotting blog, who got the recipe from Desserts by the Yard.

Next time I make these (oh yes, there will be a next time), I’m trying out the 101 Cookbooks version.

30 before 30: Thin Mints

More 30 before 30 posts coming soon: hamburgers/hamburger buns, macarons, chicken nuggets!

30 before 30: B’stilla

B'stilla

I’m not exactly sure what inspired me to put b’stilla, a Moroccan chicken pie, on my 30 before 30 list. Before putting it on the list, I’d actually only eaten it once – at Aziza, as a part of an overall fantastic, multi-course meal. I think I was mostly intrigued by the idea of putting together a savory, delicately layered pie, which is something I’ve never really attempted before.

B'stilla

B'stilla

This pie involves so many pure, beautiful ingredients: fresh herbs, bright spices, enough butter and powdered sugar and cinnamon to give the dish a rich and complex taste.

I also appreciate the fact that this recipe got me to branch out, ingredients-wise. This was actually the first time I’ve ever purchased and cooked boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Traditionally, I’ve been a bit afraid to branch out much beyond the breast of the chicken, so I was grateful to be pushed out of that shell.

B'stilla

B'stilla

B'stilla

We experienced a couple of snafus. One: the stovetop mixture, before going in to the pie dish, just wasn’t thickening as much as I would have liked, and I worried about overcooking it, so I think the end result wasn’t quite firm enough. Two: the pie had been baking for at least 15 minutes past the recommended baking time, and the top still wasn’t as crisp and brown as it should have been; I wanted to give it more time, but we were starving and it was late and I just wanted to be done. Despite this, however, this b’stilla was really delicious. I would definitely consider making it again, for a special occasion or a weekend that begs for a longer cooking project.

B'stilla

B'stilla

B'stilla

B'stilla

I didn’t stray at all from the recipe I followed, so I won’t dictate it here. Here is the recipe source: Bon Appetit, via Turntable Kitchen.

B'stilla

B'stilla

B'stilla

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie with lattice top

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

Something magical happens when you mix sour cherries with sugar and lemon juice.

Wait, let’s back up. First, we need to talk about sour cherries.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

Apparently, fresh sour (a.k.a. tart) cherries are not easy to come by, at least in the Bay Area. While markets will have piles of fresh, sweet Bings and Rainiers ready for the taking, it is much less likely that the same markets will have fresh sour cherries available. Instead, sour cherries can be found canned, frozen, or dried, and if you’re lucky, at your local farmers market. A friend informed me that she usually gets sour cherries from a farmer selling at the Civic Center market; however, this summer, due to wackier weather, this farmer didn’t have any for the selling.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

I have very little experience making pies (the last time I made an apple pie, I forgot to peel the apples first), so I wasn’t sure how I should proceed. Should I just make the pie with sweet cherries, adding more lemon juice to mimic the traditional tartness? Should I just wait until next summer and try my luck again? My sister (a pie-making guru if there ever was one) made a pie with sweet cherries and said it wasn’t that great, and I didn’t like the idea of waiting until less than a month before my 30th birthday to complete this portion of the 30 before 30 project.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

So where to get sour cherries now? Alemany Farmers Market didn’t have any. We called Rainbow Grocery, and they didn’t have any. Should I look for the canned variety? I wouldn’t even know where to start, and using canned cherries seemed to go against the whole point of this project.

So we turned to Berkeley Bowl, and lo and behold, tart cherries were in stock! The cherries had been shipped in from Washington in 2 pound plastic containers – the exact quantity that I needed.

So, back to the pie.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

This pie was amazing. I mean . . . I’m basically speechless. I’ve never had homemade, classic cherry pie before, and this was truly unreal. The crust is buttery, flaky perfection (despite the fact that I overbaked it). And the filling. Oh, the filling. Sour cherries mix with sugar and lemon juice and some cornstarch (for thickening), and the result is just heavenly. If you can find fresh sour cherries, I can’t recommend this enough.

Cherry-hunting aside, making this pie was fairly easy. It takes a while to pit all the cherries (I highly recommend a cherry pitter), and making/shaping the crust is a precise process, but otherwise it’s not back-breaking or overly complicated. And the finished product is more than worth it. Times ten.

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

30 before 30: Sour cherry pie

I used two recipes for this pie: Cooks Illustrated’s pie crust (which uses both butter and shortening for taste and texture, respectively), and Bon Appetit’s sour cherry filling (via Lottie + Doof).

I will dream of this pie every day until I can get sour cherries once again.

INGREDIENTS:

Pie crust
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
7 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cold
4-5 tablespoons ice water

Sour cherry pie filling
Adapted from Bon Appetit/Lottie + Doof

1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups whole pitted sour cherries
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Milk (any kind), for brushing on top

INSTRUCTIONS: 

Make the pie crust first, since the dough has to chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out and assembling (and you can use the chill time to pit your cherries). For the next few steps, I used a food processor, but they can also be done in a bowl with either a pastry cutter or two knives or just your fingers.

Add the flour, sugar and salt to the food processor bowl and pulse a couple of times to mix together. Take your butter and shortening out of the fridge and cut into small (1/4 inch or so) pieces. Add the butter pieces to the flour mixture in the food processor, and pulse 5 times to incorporate. Repeat the same steps with the shortening. You want the mixture to resemble very coarse cornmeal. Note: I ended up with a mixture that had butter/shortening chunks that were slightly larger than small peas, as opposed to the Cook’s Illustrated instructions – since I didn’t want to overmix, however, I just went with it. The crust turned out wonderfully, regardless.

Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of ice water into the mixture and fold in with a rubber spatula (add 1 more tablespoon if the dough isn’t coming together). Using your hands, shape the dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other. Flatten into 4-inch wide disks (I forgot this step), dust with flour, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

After chilling the fridge, remove the dough from the refrigerator and set aside. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and place a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Make the filling. Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl, then gently stir in pitted cherries, lemon juice, and vanilla. Set aside while you roll out the dough.

Roll out the smaller disk of dough between two lightly floured pieces of plastic wrap (this is optional; I certainly found it easier to use the plastic rather than roll out directly on the counter) into a 12-inch round. Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie dish, and trim the edges to 1/2 inch length (I forgot to do this, and just ended up with some extra crust – no big deal).

Roll out the larger disk of dough between two lightly floured pieces of plastic into a 12-inch round. Using a pizza cutter, knife or pastry wheel (I used a pizza cutter), cut the round into 10 equal long strips (about 3/4 inch wide strips).

Give the filling one last stir, and gently pour into the dough-lined pie dish, mounding slightly in the center, and dot with the butter pieces. Follow these helpful instructions for arranging the strips on top of the filling to form the lattice. Fold the bottom crust over the ends of the strips and seal together all around the pie. Use a fork to crimp the edges. Brush the lattice pieces with a little bit of milk, then sprinkle with sugar (around 1 tablespoon).

Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet (because the filling will spill out, and the baking sheets prevents a big stinky smelly mess in your oven). Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425, then reduce temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 50-60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. If the crust starts to brown too quickly, drape foil lightly over the whole pie until the end (I didn’t check mine soon enough and my crust was already a bit too brown, but it still came out great).

Once the pie is finished baking, remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool completely. Resist the urge to cut into the pie before it’s finished cooling; as the filling cools, it thickens up into the perfect pie consistency that’s worth waiting for.

30 before 30: Oreos (for the 4th of July!)

Oreos

I’ve always loved Oreos. Either by themselves, or crushed up as a cookies-and-cream type concoction. I prefer to not split them apart and eat the filling first, as many do; I just eat the whole thing at once, and then immediately reach for another.

Oreos

I thought about homemade Oreos all week. I craved them whenever I was hungry, even though I’ve never tasted them before. I thought I knew, but actually, I did not – they were even better than I could predict.

Oreos

The homemade version of the classic Oreo is just as good as the store-bought variety, and even more rich and sweet and satisfying. The filling tastes just like the standard Oreo filling, only creamier; the cookies are just as crisp and satisfying, and made with love.

Oreos

Oreos

The decision to make Oreos as the next item on my 30 before 30 list at this time was somewhat fortuitous: it was the weekend of the 4th of July, so I decided to utilize some food coloring for some red, white and blue action in celebration of the holiday. We also doubled the recipe (for a total of 51 cookies) and brought one batch to Rock Band night and another to the Big Time Freedom Fest. They were well-loved by many.

Oreos

Oreos

This recipe is quite easy. Both the dough and the filling come together in a snap, and are very easy to work with. The only part that’s time-consuming is assembling the cookies once the wafers are baked and cooled and the filling is ready. That’s probably why I hadn’t made these before – because I was intimidated by the time and wondered if the payoff would be worth it.

It is definitely worth it, especially if you have a special event or holiday coming up. The adaptation possibilities are endless: different colors, different flavors for the filling (chocolate, mint, coffee, etc.), maybe even different flavors for the wafers!

Oreos

Oreos
Adapted from smitten kitchen

Chocolate wafers:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg

Filling:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and set two racks in the middle of the oven. Mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar in the bowl of an electric/stand mixer. While mixing on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Mix until everything comes together, stopping the mixer to scrape down the bowl if necessary.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon rounded teaspoons of the batter onto the sheets about two inches apart. Using moistened hands, lightly flatten the balls of dough.

Bake the cookies for 9 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. After 9 minutes, remove the pans from the oven and immediately remove the cookies from the pans to a counter or cooling rack. The cookies should cool down and crisp up fairly quickly. Continue with any remainder of the dough.

To make the cream filling, beat the butter and shortening at low speed and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract. Once incorporated, turn the mixture to high and beat for 2-3 minutes until it’s light and fluffy.

Now it’s time to assemble the Oreos. As smitten kitchen dictates, I used pastry bags to pipe the filling onto half of the cookies – however, if you don’t want to buy/use pastry bags, I imagine using a spoon would work just as well. Sandwich the other half of the cookies onto the iced ones, matching up by size as best as possible, gently pressing down to create the sandwiches.

If you want to work with different-colored icing, decide how many colors you’d like to use and divide up the filling accordingly. For each color, beat one portion of the filling with a few drops of food coloring until incorporated, adding more drops as needed.

30 before 30: Chana masala + naan

Chana masala

I made this at the end of a very busy Sunday – Jeffrey and I went shopping for a whole new bed setup, which resulted in us driving all around and picking up and assembling the various components from the late morning until the late evening. It was entirely worth it, however. Our new bed is divine. And HUGE. My goodness.

But here’s the downside: I’m a little disappointed that this is the first official post for my 30 before 30 project. I was sort of hoping to emerge powerfully from the gates, kitchen tools blazing, with a perfectly tasty and satisfying dish to triumphantly cross off the list.

But here’s the honest truth: while this chana masala was ultimately good, it was way, waaaaay too spicy. As in, we couldn’t finish our servings because our mouths were on fire – and this is after stirring in some plain yogurt and taking timid bites along with generous portions of naan.

Naan

And then there’s the naan. The naan was very good. However (and I expected this to happen), it was quite different from the true restaurant style – mostly because I didn’t have a Tandoori oven at my disposal. Additionally, the dough was very sticky – it proved difficult to pull and stretch the dough pieces into the ideal shape/thinness. But fresh from the oven, these were pretty great.

It’s worth noting that I used a recipe that bakes the naan in the oven. However, there are other recipes that involve cooking the naan on the stove, which may help in mimicking traditional naan.

Naan

Oh chana masala. Why so spicy? Most likely, I wasn’t precise enough in my measurements of the hot chili pepper or the various spices, and used too much as a result. Lesson learned.

Chana masala

I have some leftovers that are too spicy to eat, sadly. My plan is to make a batch of plain lentils and then mix in the chana masala for flavor. We shall see.

So, while this wasn’t a huge success, I learned quite a bit, and for that I am thankful.

Chana masala

Chana masala + naan

Here are the recipes!

Chana Masala
Adapted from smitten kitchen

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 hot green chili pepper, minced (I used a pepper from my frozen stash)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups tomatoes, chopped small or 1 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lemon (juiced)

Measure all the spices (coriander through garam masala) into a small bowl and mix together (this is an optional step, but will save you time and stress later).

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, then add the onion, garlic, ginger and pepper and sauté until browned/soft (about 5 minutes). Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the spices mix, cooking for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and any extra tomato juice. Stir in the water and chickpeas, then simmer uncovered for 10-20 minutes (until thickened). Stir in the lemon juice and salt.

If you’re not serving right away (i.e. if your naan dough has finished rising and is ready to bake), you can remove the skillet from the heat and cover until ready to eat.

Naan
Adapted from Mark Bittman

2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Combine yeast, milk, yogurt, and sugar in small bowl and set aside. Add the flour, egg, and salt to a large bowl, and mix on low with an electric mixer until just combined (I used my stand mixer). Pour in yeast mixture and mix briefly (about 30 seconds), and add 1.5 cups of water a bit at a time until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky. Mine, unfortunately, was still too sticky at this point, so I had to add about 1/4 cup more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough was usable.

Lightly flour a work surface and briefly knead the dough to form a smooth, round ball. Lightly oil a bowl with a neutral oil, put the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (1-2 hours). My “warm place” is our oven, turned off, since the pilot light keeps the oven warm at all times.

When the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 500 degrees and place a baking sheet (or a baking stone if you have one – I don’t) on a rack positioned on lowest shelf of the oven.

Punch the dough down on the floured work surface – feel free to use more flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the work surface. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (Mark Bittman suggests rolling the dough into a “snake,” then tearing the snake into 12 pieces). Let the pieces rest for 10 minutes, covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel.

Depending on how many pieces will fit on your baking sheet, stretch out the pieces individually into a teardrop-shaped oval, 6-8 inches long, 3-4 inches wide. Do this as best you can, but don’t go too crazy if the dough doesn’t stretch and keep its shape perfectly.

Take the baking sheet out of the oven and place the stretched pieces on to the sheet. Put the sheet back in the oven on the lowest rack and bake for 3 minutes. Flip the pieces over and bake for an additional 6-8 minutes. The finished naan will be nice and puffed, mottled and brown. Brush the hot pieces with the melted butter and serve.

I waited until after we ate to bake the remaining pieces of naan dough. If I were to make these again, I would likely halve the recipe – this made 12 pieces of naan, and the leftovers don’t keep especially well (although they’re decent when microwaved or lightly toasted).

30 before 30: The List

As I mentioned previously, I am embarking on a 30 before 30 cooking project. Some general guidelines about this project:

  • I chose the items based almost entirely on my own personal curiosity to try said dishes – dishes I basically have not attempted before, and haven’t done so because I either didn’t have the proper excuse, or because I thought the projects seemed too complicated/intimidating.
  • There are plenty of classically complicated recipes out there that I didn’t include, and I’m okay with that. I don’t really have a desire to make beef wellington, so that didn’t make it on the list.
  • Some recipes on the list are probably not all that complicated. I’m okay with that as well. Like I said, this has to do more with my own desires and curiosities, and at the end of the day, it’s about having fun in the kitchen and enjoying the end result.
  • I didn’t want to include recipes that would result in an enormous amount of food, because that just seems wasteful. Example: turducken.
  • I will also avoid having to purchase too much special equipment. I already have access to a propane torch (thankfully), I already own a stand mixer (also full of thanks on that one), and I may consider buying a dutch oven and/or cast-iron skillet. But I do not plan on buying a pasta maker or novelty bakeware, as an example.

Here is my final list of projects, all of which I plan to tackle before August 2012. I will blog about each experience, and link the items to their corresponding posts once they’re completed. I won’t be going in the exact order listed below, and I aim to cross at least one item off the list every two weeks or so.

  1. Macarons
  2. Roast chicken and bread salad (Zuni Cafe recipe)
  3. Lattice cherry pie
  4. Cassoulet
  5. Pho
  6. Naan + other Indian dish (completed on 6/19/11)
  7. Baguettes
  8. Hamburgers + homemade buns + learn to grill
  9. Boeuf bourguignon
  10. Creme brûlée
  11. Lemon merengue pie
  12. Roast duck
  13. Chicken nuggets (Local Lemons’ recipe)
  14. Mole
  15. Croissants
  16. Sourdough bread
  17. Tiramisu
  18. B’stilla
  19. Ravioli
  20. Injera + ethiopian dish
  21. Souffle
  22. Carnitas + tortillas
  23. Princess cake
  24. Curry paste
  25. Tamales
  26. Thin Mints
  27. Oreos
  28. Bagels
  29. Gnocchi
  30. Baked alaska

Here goes nothing . . .

30 before 30 cooking project

I turn 30 in August 2012 (1 year and two months from now). I’m considering a “30 before 30” cooking project, where I identify and make 30 dishes that I’ve never tried and have been curious to try, but haven’t yet because a) I didn’t necessarily see a reason to, and/or b) thought the recipe seemed too complicated. Here are the ideas I’ve come up with thus far (haven’t come up with 30 ideas just yet – I just started this last night):

  1. French macarons
  2. Whole chicken (Zuni Cafe recipe?)
  3. Lattice-topped cherry pie
  4. Layer cake
  5. Cassoulet
  6. Pho
  7. Naan + other Indian dish
  8. Baguettes
  9. Hamburgers + homemade buns + learn to grill
  10. Boeuf bourguignon
  11. Creme brûlée
  12. Lemon merengue pie
  13. Roast duck
  14. Chicken nuggets (Local Lemons’ recipe)
  15. Mole
  16. Croissants
  17. Sourdough bread
  18. Tiramisu
  19. B’stilla
  20. Ravioli
  21. Injera + ethiopian dish
  22. New York Times’ chocolate chip cookies
  23. Souffle (cheese or chocolate)

Note: some of these may not actually be that “complicated,” technically speaking, but may still be considered outside the standard everyday-type recipes.

Any thoughts from the masses? What recipe/dish would you put on this list? I’m open to any/all suggestions.