Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sea Salt and Thyme Chocolate Chunk Cookies



Everyone is gearing up for epic Thanksgiving cookery right now, which marks the beginning of the upcoming holiday season marathon of roasted turkeys, mashed potatoes, and gluttony galore. In case you're looking for last minute Thanksgiving desserts: might I recommend a drunken pear frangipane tart? or pumpkin pie with caramel brandy hard sauce? (Wait, why did those first two suggestions both involve liquor???) Or, for a twist on a traditional favorite, cheddar apple hand pies?


Sometimes during the holiday season, though, I get tired of all the insane hubbub of endless buffets and fancy eating and zipping from place to place. Sometimes, I just want to slow down, take some time, stare out the window at the crisp winter days, wrap my hands around a mug of tea or hot chocolate or warm apple cider or milk while sitting by a cozy, crackling fire, listen to my favorite Christmas music, and just enjoy the holiday season and the twinkle of the Christmas lights reflecting off of the walls. For those days, this is the cookie you'll want to nosh on: seasalt and thyme chocolate chunk cookies.


This cookie is your wonderfully nostalgic, just-perfectly-chewy chocolate chip cookie (with a bit of delicate crumb still) remixed into something sophisticated and ever so "adult"--or worthy of the adult table!--, with a sprinkling of sea salt and a touch of fresh, earthy thyme. When paired with the mix of dark and semisweet large chocolate chunks, the sea salt and thyme make this cookie surprisingly novel yet familiar. I got a lot of "ooooo! What is that secret ingredient that you put in here?" moments from people who tried these cookies. And then you can just smugly and silently smile in reply. Because every holiday moment should have its share of magic and mystery. ;-)


Have a very happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Read on for recipe....

Thursday, November 17, 2011

TGIF



I can't believe it's almost Thanksgiving! Does anyone else around here get the feeling that time's moving faster and faster by the day?! Slow down and wait for me, please! is how I'm constantly feeling--you know, like in the movies, running desperately after a train that's speeding out of the station without you. *sigh*

Anyways, enough about how too busy I am, and more about food! and photography! Gabriela over at What Liberty Ate has put together an absolutely beautiful and lush magazine spin-off of her blog. There are several wonderful interviews with bloggers around the world in it--including me! :) It was very flattering to be included with such great company, so please go check it out!

Happy Friday-before-black-Friday, everyone!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Apple Cider Donuts



Sometimes I feel as if my East Coast friends delight in going out of their way to point out all of the awesome and cool things we're missing here in California, as if to make up for the fact that we do have (relatively) mild weather and access to an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables all year round. "The blueberries are better!" I'll hear, or "The corn is far superior." Or "You don't have seasons here." (Actually, we do. Just subtle ones, and you have to have lived here for a long time to perceive them, but that's part of the charm.) And sure, every place has what it's good at, what makes it special, and that's what's neat about it--that's why I love traveling, so there's no need to go about rubbing it all in anyone else's faces, people! Harumph.


Rant aside, enter apple cider donuts.  I first heard of these beauts last year, during one of my friend's "California doesn't have x" conversations. Then, this year, another friend based in NYC instagrammed a photo of apple cider donuts about to be devoured (Ah! You foodies on Instagram and Twitter torture me so!) and Jackie, a fellow tortured foodie/photographer, and I decided that something must be done about this situation. So we set out on our own apple cider donut -making adventure! (If this were a movie, cue the montage of hilariously random escapades on the Quest for the Cider Donut.)


These donuts! were yummy--crispy fried outsides, with cinnamon sugar crunch, and fluffy, cake insides. mmmmmm. They don't really taste much like apple, to my surprise--though I'm told they aren't actually supposed to--but they are nice and cinnamon-y and spicy. Jackie and I took to dipping ours in our mugs of hot apple cider (something my grandpa taught me to do with Chinese donuts and sweet soy milk), which made these donuts even more delicious. ...or coffee! they are good with a hot cup of dark roast, too.


Then we took to photographing our creations! It is so much fun to watch another photographer in action, and it's amazing to see how different people perceive the exact same subject in such drastically different ways: it's a wonderful reminder of how diversity makes this world a much more interesting and exciting place. Sure, you could attribute the differences in our images to cameras or lenses, but when it comes down to it, I'd like to think that a lot of it is about the photographer, our individual experiences, how we see and interpret the world. Such fun to remember that not everyone has the same set of eyes, or heads and hearts behind them!


Jackie also managed to capture some rare photos of my kitchen in action, so if you've ever wondered what behind-the-scenes desserts for breakfast headquarters looks like, please go check out her post about our donut adventure! Somehow, she's managed to magically make my perpetually messy kitchen look dreamy. :-D

P.S. If you remember, Jackie and I went traipsing around Hakone Gardens together in the summer. Check out our posts from that afternoon here and here!

Read on for recipes....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

TGIF: Scenes from Frog's Leap



As previously promised, here are more scenes from my recent visit to Frog's Leap. It has been a few years since I'd been to the winery last, and in that time, they've definitely grown leaps and bounds. Last time I visited, it was a quiet and sleepy little winery, just starting to make it big, and this time around, it's clear that the secret of this wonderful place has gotten out, because it was packed with tasters and visitors. Yet, somehow, this place still manages to keep its little small-winery charm, especially nestled between the huge Napa Valley behemoth wineries that taste so corporate. Plus, they're still one of the only ones doing dry-farmed, sustainable, and organic wine-making--a huge bonus in my book.


This kitty! was there the last time I visited, perched on the same couch in the same position. She's an old cat now, but she still manages to be the sweetest thing ever.


A winery employee teaching us about different types of grapes and how they have to take care of them.


I love the smell of barrel rooms, with the earthiness of the woods, and the vague dampness from the cool and the wine. It's amazing to see how many barrels are stacked here (and in the basement level below), and how the wine stains the wood a bright maroon red.


For more Frog's Leap scenes and grape-inspired deliciousness --> this previous post.

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This week has sort of flown by faster than ever! But that's what happens when you're having fun and getting swamped at work all at the same time. In any case, I hope everyone has a beautiful November weekend!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Concord Grape Sorbet



Concord grapes! These things are a-mazing. Until a year ago, I had no idea what concord grapes were. And yet, all over the internets and all through the markets, I heard people buzzing about these grapes, how wonderful they are, how awesomely grape-y they are. "What in the world?!--People are insane," I thought smugly. ... until finally one day last fall, someone at the farmers' market offered me a sample concord grape.


The moment that I popped the grape into my mouth, I was stunned. From out of the thick skin burst a huge punch of GRAPE! juice. Like, there was no actual grape flesh--just 100% juice. And I was startled to actually recognize the flavor: this--concord grapes, apparently--was what every kid could identify blindfolded as quintessential lunchbox grape juice, or the ultra-sweet and ultra-purple grape-flavored popsicles.  This was Grape, the very definition.

[click photo for larger image]

Unfortunately by the time I had discovered the wonderfulness of concord grapes last fall, their season had come to a close. So I waited (very impatiently, bugging the farmers at the market every week) for the reappearance of concords, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them when they did show up: concord grape sorbet.

The wait was well worth it! because this concord grape sorbet is every bit of juicy, sweet, grape-packed nostalgia that you remember from childhood, in a super-smooth sorbet form. It's so refreshing and perfect for the end of a heavy, starch-filled autumn meal, and the color! is absolutely gorgeous as well.


I loved this sorbet so much that I came *this close* to not posting it--I wanted to keep it my little IRL secret!  :)   But then, when a fellow blogger came to town and I took her and another good blogger friend to tour one of my favorite wineries in Napa/Rutherford, I just couldn't resist a grape-inspired post. Plus, some secrets are just too good not to share!



Many more photos from Napa forthcoming! It's just too gorgeous up there to fit it all in one post!


Read on for recipe....

Thursday, November 3, 2011

TGIF


[click on photo to view it large!]

Everyone who had a hard, tough week: raise your hands!

Okay, for those of us with two hands raised way up (and even for those of you with one hand raised or who are too exhausted and drained to raise any hands), I hope for all hopes and for the sake of sanity that next week will be better.

Until then, here's a ray of sunshine for us all.  Happy weekend!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cheddar Apple Hand Pies



I have a snacking problem.  Mainly, I find it really hard to snack in moderation.  I've given this problem a lot of deep thought, and I've finally figured out why: it's because I have to have a balance of sweet and savory.  If I snack on something sweet, I end up craving something salty, and then something sweet again, and then something salty, and then... well, you get the picture.  It's *not* a pretty sight.

Having identified the problem (yay, me!), I set about to try to solve it.  Was there a way to get both sweet and savory in one bite in wonderful snack form?  This is what I came up with: white cheddar and cinnamon apple hand pies.


The solution seemed so simple, really--actually, staring me in the face at the market, which is currently brimming with crisp apples galore!, with every variety you've heard of and some hierloom varieties you've never heard of (and some varieties even the farmers themselves have never heard of--no joke, they sell these as "unknown" varieties).  "Apples," I thought to myself (a lot of thinking to myself is involved in my life--it may or may not be a good thing), "apples make a healthy snack."  And so it was, me carrying bagfuls of apples home, only to be combined with butter and sugar in pie form.  ("healthy" is a relative term....)

Of course, the salty ingredient to go with tart, juicy, cinnamon-y apples would have to be cheddar.  Preferably the sharpest white cheddar you can find in the store, so that the flavor pops out in the pie crust.  (Also, I used white cheddar for you East Coast folks who are always complaining that our West Coast yellow cheddar just doesn't cut it--happy now?)  And, of course the form factor had to be something that could fit conveniently in one hand and be eaten on the go: it's supposed to be snack food after all!

[click on photo for larger image]

The result was a hand pie that is the perfect marriage of sweet and savory, tart and spiced and salty and sharp.  The dough flakes off like soft, lightly crisped shards of cheesy butter straight into your mouth, revealing an inside of warm, sweet, fruity apple pie filling, all topped off with a tiny bit of coarse sugar crunch sprinkled on the outside.  When baking, these pies fill the house with a wonderfully complex aroma--baking cheese wafting through the rooms to give way to the amazing smell of bubbling apples.  Even though I usually open all of the windows when I bake, this time I closed all of the windows and doors of the house to keep the autumnal scents in just a little bit longer.  Also, these hand pies are great snack foods because you can prep a bunch ahead of time and stick un-baked ones in the freezer in a zip-top bag, popping one or two in the oven as needed whenever you want.


I have to say that hands down, these cheddar apple hand pies are some of my favorite baked goods that I've made, like, ever--I kid you not.  You *must* try these.  They were definitely the sweet-and-savory, one-bite-has-it-all snacks I was looking for to fix my snacking problem....  but.... there's only one issue....

It appears that I made them too delicious to just eat one (or two or three) of.  Oops.


Welcome to November, everyone!


Read on for recipe....

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