Thursday, December 23, 2010

ginger crinkles

I thought I would be able to get away without making any cookies this holiday season.

Obviously, that was a naive thought.

It's been a bit of a strange year for me when it comes to holidays. For someone who loves to cook, the food-filled holidays of late fall and early winter should be a time to look forward to. But for some reason this year, I simply haven't been able to get my head into it.

I skipped out on Thanksgiving, choosing instead to spend the time on an adventure in London and Paris. I also planned a non-Christmas: rather than the norm of a decorated tree, a trip to Washington state and presents, I am escaping to Hawaii for a brief winter vacation with JR, my mom, and brother. I did not decorate anything. I have not bought a single gift. I did not send any cards. I thought I would be able to skip out on the baking that typically goes along with the holiday season as well.

Truth be told, I could have. But I was at Melissa's last week and we made these really tasty white chocolate peppermint cookies for John's cookie exchange that kind of got me in the mood to bake. We had our work team's holiday gathering earlier this week, and I decided to make some cookies for the occasion.

These turned out quite tasty: chewy and spicy, with a flavor like gingerbread men without the hassle of rolling and cutting. They pair perfectly with a glass of eggnog (one holiday treat that I knew going in that I wouldn't be able to do without). The recipe is from Mary Engelbreit's Cookies Cookbook, which I bought in college and has since gone out of print. I had originally been planning to make my favorite sugar cookies from this book, but opted to try something new instead. I also made shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate and pistachios that I'll post soon.

In the meantime, I wish you and your loved ones a very merry Christmas. Personally, I am looking forward to the soon-to-come new year and the new adventures that it is sure to bring.

Ginger Crinkles
Makes about 3 dozen

1/2 c. unsalted butter
1/4 c. unsulphured molasses
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract
confectioners' sugar, for coating

Melt butter and molasses in a large saucepan. Allow to cool.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

Whisk the eggs and vanilla into the cooled butter mixture. Stir into dry ingredients until blended. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in confectioners' sugar to cover and set 3 inches apart on parchment paper lined baking sheets. Bake about 14 minutes, until cookies have puffed up and sunk and are set around edges.

Allow to cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

pea and pancetta risotto

I have been thinking about this dish since my plane ride from Seattle to San Francisco nearly two weeks ago. I knew I would be traveling home to a ripe lemon on the tree in my backyard (the very first!) and was thinking about how to put it to use. I had made a meyer lemon risotto in the summer with lemons from a friend's tree that turned out quite tasty. I started thinking about what veggies might go well in a variation on that dish.

One of the things I love about California is that we're able to get fresh produce all year long. That said, we are coming to the time of year when the variety of local veggies becomes a little more limited. There are nearly always plenty of dark leafy greens, which I love, but I recently made a chard risotto and so was looking for something different in this particular instance.

Enter frozen peas.

Frozen produce is a great alternative to fresh. Fruits and vegetables are typically frozen at their seasonal peak and freezing preserves the vitamin content. In fact, frozen produce often has higher nutrient content than non-local fresh counterparts that have to be shipped long distances from farm to grocery store. This means if you can't eat local, from a nutritive standpoint, frozen fruits and vegetables are often the next best choice.

As a child, I remember eating frozen peas often. I recall sitting at the table, eating peas one at a time with my fingers, squeezing the insides into my mouth before popping the skin in. In retrospect, I'm surprised my mother tolerated this, though I suppose when parents can get their kids to happily eat vegetables, they are willing to perhaps let some other things (e.g. eating with one's hands) slide.

Let's spend a moment on peas and pancetta. Again, looking back to my childhood, I seem to remember frozen peas always being served with baked potatoes. And I recall topping my baked potatoes with Bac-Os ("bacon flavored chips" for those unfamiliar). Thinking back, I have to believe that is probably where the taste memory that is the basis for this dish originated.

There is certainly something about peas and pancetta that make them perfect for each other. Beyond the alliteration (which I enjoy), I think it's the combination of both texture and taste: soft and sweet on the one hand, crisp and salt-brined on the other.

As I mentioned, one reason I'm excited about this dish is because it incorporates the first ripe lemon from my lemon tree. You may recall that I've had this tree for quite some time - since August 2009, to be exact. Though it blossomed almost immediately, the actual process of growing lemons was quite slow at the beginning, I think due to the tree's initial location where it didn't get much direct sunlight and inhabited a pot slightly smaller than recommended. When I transplanted it into a wine barrel in our yard this past April when we bought our house, the tree decided it was lemon producing time. It had a single lemon on its branches at that point, about the size of a silver dollar and dark green. It's this same lemon (now fully ripe) that is in our risotto dish this evening:

The very first lemon blossom in summer 2009.

Fast forward 16 months: the first ripe lemon!

The tree is now packed with ripening lemons (the one plucked for the risotto is on the bottom right).

The resulting risotto was magical. A sweet, tangy, salty meal that conjured the bright taste of spring in the almost-winter (that starts officially the day after tomorrow)!

Pea & Pancetta Risotto
Serves 4

2 c. frozen peas, thawed
1/4 lb. sliced pancetta, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 c. arborio rice
1/2 c. white wine
juice of 1 lemon (note: grate peel first)
4 c. hot chicken stock
1 Tbsp. grated lemon peel
1 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
a pinch of white pepper
1/4 c. parmesan, grated

Puree half of the peas in a food processor. Set aside.

Crisp pancetta in a medium pan over medium heat. Drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Heat oil and butter in a pot (I use my french oven). Add onion and cook until translucent. Add rice. Stir until rice is coated with oil and butter. Add white wine and lemon juice. Adjust temperature to maintain a constant simmer. Stir regularly until liquid is absorbed.

Add chicken stock, 1/2 c. at a time, stirring regularly and allowing the liquid to fully absorb between each addition. Add pureed peas with the last ladle of stock, stirring to fully incorporate.

Add whole peas, lemon zest, mint, thyme, pepper, parmesan, and half of the pancetta. Stir to incorporate.

Serve in individual bowls, topped with remaining pancetta.

One year ago: rocky road fudge

Thursday, December 16, 2010

cooking...and data visualization?

I enjoy cooking, that much is clear. But those who know me personally are familiar with one of my geekier interests: data visualization. I studied applied math in school and have always enjoyed turning data into pictures and into stories. I teach a class at Google on this topic and recently have had the opportunity to present to external audiences as well. The external engagements in particular led me to start thinking about creating a personal brand that goes beyond the kitchen. I've enjoyed (and plan to continue to enjoy) blogging about my culinary adventures. I've decided to start blogging about data visualization, too.

I assume those interested in the intersection - cooking and data visualization - is not a large population. But in the event that you happen to enjoy both like I do, I recommend checking out my new second blog, which can be found at

For those asking themselves what in the world data visualization is, don't fret - cole's kitch will remain focused on cooking. Stay tuned for a sweat pea risotto recipe that's been sitting in my 'to post' pile and will cause your taste buds to jump forward to spring for a moment until the sparkling holiday lights remind you that winter is nearly officially here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

carrot apple ginger soup

Between the garden and the bunches arriving the past two weeks in the CSA box (which JR didn't touch when I was in Seattle - I've never really figured out how/what he eats when I'm not here to cook...), I found myself with a fridge suddenly overrun with carrots earlier this week. Overrun with carrots and not exactly sure what to do with them.

I had soup on my mind. It has been cold and rainy - the kind of weather that calls for something hot to be simmering on the stovetop. I love unabashedly autumn thick, burnt-orange colored soups: butternut squash, kabocha, pumpkin. It struck me that carrot soup would have a similar sapphire tone. I scanned the kitchen to determine what else to incorporate. Onion is a soup-staple from my perspective. The apples and ginger root on the counter sounded like they would combine for a good flavor profile, so into the pot they went. The soup was healthy, tasty, and came together relatively quickly. If I had more time, I might have roasted the carrots first to bring out their natural sweetness. I'll try that next time.

Carrots from the garden.

A note on organic carrots: when I was scanning carrot soup recipes online, I noticed that many call for peeling the carrots. If you are vegetarian and use organic carrots (especially from your own garden), I would actually advise against this. Organic dirt is one of the few non-animal sources of B12, a vitamin important for brain and nervous system function. The small amount of organic dirt in your carrot's skin may actually be beneficial.

Carrot, Apple, Ginger Soup
Serves 4

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
8-10 medium organic carrots, chopped
3 medium apples, peeled & chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger root, minced
4 c. vegetable broth
1 Tbsp. honey
1 generous pinch of sea salt
toasted walnuts & cream for garnish

In a dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft. Add carrots, apples, and ginger. Cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots begin to soften. Add broth, honey, and salt. Simmer for 20 minutes, until carrots are fully cooked.

Use an immersion blender (or an upright blender, processing the soup in batches as needed) to puree the soup to a smooth consistency. Serve topped with toasted walnuts and cream.

One year ago: eggplant pizza

Saturday, December 4, 2010

meringue, charcuterie, and turkey pie, oh my!

It's hard to believe that it's been a week already since I returned from Europe. This trip included adventures in London and Paris. Adventures with an incredible amount of amazing food, which is the topic of this post.

There was just one restaurant on my must-visit list in London: Ottolenghi. I had read about the quartet of London restaurants on several blogs and upon checking out their website, confirmed I needed to try one for myself. So on a chilly Wednesday evening after a day of museum exploration, I found myself trekking by tube and foot to Islington, north of London, with high hopes for a memorable meal. I was not disappointed.

The meal at Ottolenghi was one of the best meals I've eaten.


While waiting for a table to open up, I occupied myself admiring the daily cold specials and pastries, my mouth watering more and more at each new treasure I observed.

What caught my eye most were the meringues: grapefruit-sized, stone-shaped objects in the flavors of chocolate, raspberry, and hazelnut. I chatted with the chap who was preparing takeout orders; he said without hesitation that hazelnut was his favorite, as it was soft in the middle with cinnamon inside that "tastes like Christmas".


But first, dinner.

All of the menu items are tasting portions, which was lovely, as it meant that between myself and my dinner companion (a fellow foodie, so I was in good company), we were able to try a number of delicious dishes, including: roasted aubergine, thinly sliced tuna wrapped in nori with a wasabi-panko crust, beef carpaccio served with an amazing sweet-tangy cilantro dipping sauce (I'm not sure how I misguessed on the sweetener - I was sure it was agave, but upon asking learned it was maple syrup, which I use so often I should have definitely identified), a dish with salsify, mushrooms, and quail egg that might be the single best dish I've ever enjoyed, and a red wine too perfect to even attempt to put into words.

Desert consisted of a blueberry cupcake. A blueberry cupcake that served as the foundation for the best buttercream frosting I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. Yes, the combination of sugar and butter typically yields good results. But this was beyond good. The cupcake itself was incredibly moist, with blueberry marmalade cleverly baked into the bottom of the cake.

I took the hazelnut meringue to go and enjoyed it the following morning with a cafe latte while waiting for a train to Paris. It was a little like eating sweet air with a bit of a crunch to it - until arriving at the middle, that is, which contained all of the warm spice of Christmas, as promised.

It's interesting to me that a London meal tops the list from my culinary adventures (not a city known for its great food); the rest of the highlights are from Paris:

Turkey pie (left, with cranberry sauce) on my Thanksgiving Day train ride to Paris.

Charcuterie and a beautiful rose from Provence in a Paris cafe.

French onion soup at another Paris cafe.

Tomate, fromage, jambon crepe enjoyed in a warm cafe near Sacre Couer as it began to snow outside.

Macaron chocolat enjoyed with an espresso in Gare du Nord.

...and one more non-food pic, because it's too beautiful not to share.

I continue to be enamored with Europe and am already starting to think about my next adventure: to Italy in the spring, if not sooner...
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