Friday, September 18, 2020

Jessica Fechtor's Challah

I believe I haven’t talked about Jessica Fechtor’s Stir yet – it’s a memoir of her recovery from a brain aneurysm, and it’s by far one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s also full of recipes, so it’s currently in my kitchen with a bunch of Post-It tabs sticking out of it! I’ve enjoyed her butter almond cake, but the recipe that’s really wowed me so far is her challah, which uses an interesting technique of folding instead of straight-up kneading the dough (it was created by her friend Andrew Jianjigian). It’s perfect on holidays like Rosh Hashanah, but there’s no need for a special occasion – she makes it almost every Friday. 

This challah was fantastic! The dough was easy to braid, and I’m sure it could be shaped differently too. The loaves were beautifully golden (maybe a smidge too golden?) and the crumb was soft and delicious. I also loved this bread toasted and lightly buttered, though it should be said that it was still perfectly moist on day 2. The recipe makes two loaves; I sprinkled one with sesame seeds and one with poppy seeds, which are classics, but Jessica Fechtor also recommends rolled oats, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. You could also use no seeds at all. 

For the dry ingredients

4 cups (500 g) bread flour

11/2 tsp. instant dry yeast

2 tsp. fine sea salt

For the wet ingredients

2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk (save the extra white in a covered glass in the fridge for glazing later on)

3/4 cup (190 g) water

1/3 cup (75 g) olive oil

1/4 cup (85 g) honey

For sprinkling, before baking (optional): sesame seeds, poppy seeds, flaxseeds, rolled oats, sunflower seeds, and/or pumpkin seeds

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and the wet ingredients in a smaller bowl. Dump the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until a wet, sticky dough forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes. 

Peel back the plastic. Grab an edge of the dough, lift it up, and fold it over itself to the center. Turn the bowl a bit and repeat around the entire lump of dough, grabbing an edge and folding it into the center, eight turns, grabs, and folds in all. Then flip the dough so that the folds and seams are on the bottom. Cover tightly again with the plastic and let sit for 30 minutes. 

Repeat the all-around folding, flipping, covering, and resting four more times. (She keeps track by drawing hash marks in permanent marker right on the plastic, but you could also set a timer on your phone for all rises, 5 in all.) The dough flops more than it folds in the first round or two. Then, as the gluten develops, you’ll get proper folds. By the final fold, the dough will be wonderfully elastic, and you’ll be able to see and feel the small pockets of air within. Pull the plastic tight again over the bowl and refrigerate for 16 to 24 hours—any longer and you risk over-proofing. 

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide into six equal pieces. Roll into six strands, each about a foot long and ¾ inch in diameter, dusting sparingly with flour when necessary to prevent sticking. (You’ll want to add as little extra flour as possible.) Form two three-strand braids, and transfer the loaves to the prepared pan. Cover with plastic and let proof at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, until the dough is noticeably swollen and puffed and bounces back very slowly, if at all, when you poke it lightly with your finger. 

Preheat the oven to 375 °F. Remove the plastic wrap from the loaves and brush with the reserved egg white. If you’d like, sprinkle with seeds. Poppy and sesame seeds are traditional challah toppings. 

Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the bread is golden and gorgeous and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. You can also check for doneness with a thermometer; the internal temperature of the loaves will be 190 °F when fully baked. 

Transfer to racks and let cool.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Sheet Pan Chicken Meatballs and Broccoli

 I knew I had to make these meatballs after I saw them on Deb Perelman’s column on Bon Appétit (recipe here). The big draw was supposed to be the ketchup in the sauce, but honestly, we found the sauce much too spicy! There was definitely too much ginger. Maybe I should cut back on the mirin and Worcestershire sauce too? Only as I was typing this recipe did I realize what the mistake might have been: the list of ingredients said “1 ½” piece ginger” and I thought it meant one piece of ginger that was 1 ½” long, but looking at the ingredients for the meatballs, those say “1 2” piece ginger”, which logically means that the sauce actually called for one piece of ginger that was ½” long. I guess this is where it pays off to use hyphens properly and not abbreviate to the point of confusion… Anyway, I corrected it below and it should be fine! 

Since I wanted to make sure I had leftovers, I doubled the quantities for the meatballs, though admittedly my baking sheet was overcrowded and I should have used two. I also omitted the broccoli stems, since we’re not such huge fans over here, but roasting broccoli is a pretty good way to eat it. I think that next time, with a proper amount of ginger in the sauce, it’ll go over better! I started with 1 ½ cups of dry jasmati rice to make a side, because that’s typically a good amount for us (2 meals for 2 adults and 2 kids). I’ll definitely be making this again, with a less spicy sauce! 

For the sauce (see note above) 
2/3 cup ketchup 
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce 
2 Tbsp. rice cooking wine or water 
2 Tbsp. honey 
4 tsp. soy sauce 
½” piece ginger, peeled and finely grated 
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper 

For the meatballs (see note above) and assembly 
2 heads broccoli (about 1 ½ lbs.) 
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided 
2 ½ tsp. kosher salt 
crushed red pepper flakes (optional; I used a pinch of Korean pepper) 
1 lb. ground chicken 
1 large egg, beaten to blend 
4 scallions, thinly sliced 
2 garlic cloves, finely grated 
2” piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated 
½ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) 
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil 
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper 
¼ cup water cooked rice and sesame seeds, for serving 

For the sauce 
Mix ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, wine (if using), honey, soy sauce, ginger, and pepper in a small saucepan. Measure out ¼ cup mixture into a small bowl; set aside for glazing meatballs later. Bring remaining mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally and reducing heat if needed, until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Transfer sauce to a small bowl. 

For the meatballs and assembly 
Place a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 450 °F. Line a rimmed baking sheet (or two, if doubling the recipe) with foil. Trim broccoli stems and remove from crown. Peel off tough outer skin; slice crosswise into ½" pieces. Cut florets into 2" pieces. Toss on prepared baking sheet with 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, 1 tsp. salt, and a few pinches of red pepper flakes (if using). Push to the edges of baking sheet to create a space for meatballs. Brush space with remaining 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil. 

Mix chicken, egg, scallions, garlic, ginger, panko, sesame oil, pepper, remaining 1½ tsp. salt, and water in a medium bowl. Using wet hands, form into twelve 1½"-diameter meatballs (I made mine smaller). Arrange on baking sheet; brush with some of the reserved glazing mixture. Bake until meatballs are cooked through, 14–18 minutes (15 minutes in my case). Remove from oven; heat broiler. Brush meatballs with remaining glazing mixture; broil until broccoli is charred and meatballs are browned in spots, about 5 minutes. 

Spoon meatballs and broccoli over rice in bowl. Drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Blueberry Lavender Icing

I talked about the lavender and rose syrups from Le Monin that I bought, but I forgot to attach this photo to show just how big the bottles are… Luckily, they are so pretty that they actually look really nice sitting on the countertop, but it *is* going to take a long time to get through them. So every once in a while, I used them in a recipe. 

I zeroed in on this blueberry lavender icing recipethe rest of my sugar cookie dough as a vehicle for this. I only used half of the blueberry purée, so I’m reducing the amounts below (as it is, I’ve got a fair amount of blueberry-lavender purée in my freezer, so I’ll have to figure out a smoothie combination for it!). I still had about half of the icing itself left over after glazing all the cookies, so it would definitely be enough for a cake. 

 If you don’t have storebought lavender syrup, you can make simple syrup and steep lavender in it (see the original recipe for precise amounts). I used ½ cup in the recipe; I started out with ¼ cup, but it didn’t taste pronounced enough to me. Even then, I’m using less liquid than the original recipe called for, and I increased the sugar! I ended up with icing that would be the right consistency to flood cookies – what you see here happened by itself after I dolloped each cookie with a bit of icing. I stored the cookies in the fridge once they were decorated. 

5 oz. blueberries 
1 tsp. lemon juice 
½ cup lactose-free butter, at room temperature 
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted 
½ cup lavender syrup, or to taste 
½ tsp. vanilla 

In a saucepan, on low to medium heat, simmer the blueberries and lemon juice until the berries bubble and release their juices. Using the back of a wooden spoon, mash the berries into a mushy, juicy consistency. Try to squish all of the blueberries, so they will be easier to blend. (I ended up using a hand mixer and straining the mixture afterwards.) Pour the lavender syrup into the berry mixture. Remove from heat and let cool completely. 

Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, cream the butter and powdered sugar until smooth. Add the berry mixture and the vanilla. If you want it thicker, add more butter and/or powdered sugar, or add the berry mixture only a little at a time. Ice or glaze your confection.

Monday, September 14, 2020


My family and I just spent the weekend on Padre Island. The Fox had never seen the ocean, and the Little Prince didn’t remember it; I had wanted to stop there on our way up to Montreal this year, but we stayed put all summer… So when a friend of mine went to Port Aransas a few weeks ago and reported back that it was totally possible to do this while socially distancing, we decided to take a mini-vacation! We got a hotel room with kitchenette, so we ate all our meals by ourselves, and kept our distances from anyone on the beach or in the pool, even though there were more people than I expected.

I decided to dig up this post about sunscreen because of a particularly bad experience we had, though. (The skeleton of this post had been languishing on my hard drive for a long time, but I’ve now updated it in the hopes that it can be useful.) I want to add a bit of an introduction because of an article that came my way recently, so here we go.

First, it turns out that most people don’t apply sunscreen properly – here’s what proper usage looks like. Second, here’s a thread with lots of links about the fact that chemical sunscreens (as opposed to physical ones) are absorbed by the body and we don’t have data to show whether or not this is potentially dangerous. Also, surprisingly, there aren’t any studies that conclusively link use of sunscreen with decrease in melanoma. (It’s not that studies prove it doesn’t help, it’s that there aren’t any well-done trials.) And third, I just read this a few weeks ago and had my mind blown: Is sunscreen the new margarine? This article essentially explains that people who use sunscreen have a higher mortality rate from various diseases, even when you adjust for exercise and lifestyle. This actually explains why low levels of vitamin D are correlated with higher mortality rates, but vitamin D supplements have zero effect on health (see here too, and keep in mind that supplements can cause more harm than good). Essentially, it seems that exposing the body to sunlight, without any filters like sunscreen, is essential and that the tendency to get sunburn is in part caused by lack of exposure. It’s a negative feedback loop, in a way.

I know that this has been true for me to a certain extent: I used to get sunburned on my feet and shoulders at the beginning of summer when I was a child, but by the end of summer I had the clear white markings of my sandals and swimsuit straps on much browner skin, and would keep those markings right through the following spring. So while I am predisposed to getting sunburns, if I were to power through without sunscreen for a summer and made it through the burns, I’d be less fragile after several months. (As it is, after living in Texas for one year, the skin on my forearms was already darker than it had ever been, BUT I’m still pale compared to the general population and still fully capable of getting a sunburn on my forearms.) That being said, I remember reading an article years ago (in… Marie Claire magazine?) that listed the five most important risk factors for skin cancer as, in no particular order and to the best of my recollection: having fair skin that tends to burn easily; having more than 20 moles on your body; having pale eyes or hair (like blue or green eyes, or blonde hair even if only as a child); having had painful sunburns in the past, especially before the age of 5; and a family history of skin cancer. The only risk factor I don’t have is the family history, and since my annual visits to my primary care physician haven’t revealed an increased risk of any of the diseases associated with low levels of vitamin D, I think that the best thing for me to do is to continue wearing sunscreen, especially now that I live in South Texas. I do get an annual checkup at the dermatologist, too.

So, back to last weekend at the beach… You see, I thought that I should try some sunscreen with a spray applicator, so that I could be self-reliant and apply sunscreen to my back without asking for help. I bought Sun Bum SPF50 water-resistant spray; I figured it was a good brand because I really like their (“regular”) cream/lotion sunscreen in a tube. Turns out that I still needed help, because the can is hard to angle right, and directions say you have to rub it in. But still, it’s very easy to apply, so I thought it would be great for the kids – I used a regular cream sunscreen on their face and the spray on their body, which was a breeze. And I used this spray to reapply throughout the morning at the beach. And… we all got sunburns. For both my kids, it was the very first sunburn they’d ever had. Remember how one of the risk factors for skin cancer is getting a sunburn before the age of 5? I got the Little Prince through that window unscathed, but now I’ve dropped the ball with the Fox and I feel really guilty about it (even though, again, it’s not because I didn’t put sunscreen on him or didn’t reapply, it’s because I chose a product that, it turns out, doesn’t work).

Let me tell you about a few products that DO work. I’ve been using Supergoop! for a few years now and I really like it. It’s a local (San Antonio) company that makes 100% mineral sunscreens, and they really live up to their promise. I first tried their Unseen Sunscreen, which is an invisible, fragrance-free SPF40 sunscreen. I believe it’s their bestseller. I love it because it really does go on clear, and it doesn’t smell like sunscreen so it’s that much more unobtrusive. It also absorbs really quickly in the skin. For those who wear makeup, it works as a primer. I really don’t feel like I’m wearing anything, which makes me more likely to use it. However, at $32 for 1.7 ounces, I feel like I have to use it sparingly, so I’ve never used it to cover my whole body when I go swimming, for example. But it’s great for my face, and I’ve used it as an on-the-go touch-up so I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I had white streaks left on my face.

I later bought their Glowstick, which is convenient to keep in my purse (though I’ve put it in a plastic baggie because I’m afraid it might melt); that being said, even though it’s also streak-free, it does leave a shiny finish that isn’t really what I’m going for. I now have two go-tos for use on my face on a near-daily basis: Supergoop’s Superscreen Daily Moisturizer, which feels great and has an SPF of 40 (I highly recommend that one!); and I also use Olay Complete’s daily moisturizer with SPF 30 for sensitive skin. There are still days when I forget, but I now try not to beat myself up about it, given the article I linked to earlier. That article also made me decide not to order this 18-oz pump of sunscreen after all, but don’t think I’m not tempted.

I’ve also been using Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Lotion Sunscreen regularly (it’s a mouthful, I know!). It’s absorbed by the skin quickly so there are no white streaks, and it feels very light. It has a smell that reminds me of a Dove deodorant I once used (it was called “cucumber” or something, but it obviously doesn’t smell like produce). This is to say that it has a fragrance, but not something that screams “sunscreen”, which makes it more pleasant to use on a daily basis. I first bought the SPF 50, but when I needed more, the bigger format (5 fluid ounces as opposed to 3) of SPF 30 was on sale, so I’ve used that too. The smaller format fit in my countertop tray better, but the bigger one is more economical, so it’s a toss-up. Anyway, price-wise, it’s a good value, at roughly $12 for 3 fluid ounces. But I have to say that whenever I used it on my face, it wasn’t long before it got in my eyes, and then my eyes would periodically burn until I showered it off, so I use it on my arms and other exposed body parts rather than my face.

For the kids, I’ve been using Banana Boat Sport Performance in SPF60 (this is the closest I can find on their website) and Babyganics SPF50; both are waterproof. It takes a while to rub it in, but it’s effective. Even though their skin is more like the Engineer’s skin (prone to deep tans instead of burns), it’s obviously made a difference, as evidenced by the one time I used something else last weekend.

In conclusion, if anyone can recommend either a good product or a good method to sunscreen one’s own back, I’m all ears.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Chicken Shawarma with Cucumber Relish

This is one of those times when I wanted to make chicken, but couldn’t quite decide between two recipes, so I used part of each. I ended up combining this recipe for chicken shawarma with this cucumber relish as a garnish. I changed the relish a bit by using mint instead of dill (my preference) and a shallot instead of red onion (my pantry), but I really question the instructions to salt the cucumber ahead of time and let it sit, because then it lets out a bunch of water in the bowl and that’s not great. And obviously I used tortillas instead of pitas, because Texas. Despite everything, we really liked this dish!

For the cucumber relish

1 English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 4 cups; I peeled mine)

1 pinch salt

1 cup seeded, finely diced tomato

½ cup finely diced red onion (I used a shallot)

6 Tbsp. coarsely chopped and pitted black olives (I omitted those because I hate them)

4 Tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh parsley

2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh dill (I prefer mint)

1 garlic clove, minced

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (I used 2 Tbsp.)

4 tsp. fresh lemon juice (I used 2 Tbsp.)

(As stated above, I’d probably skip this step next time.) Lay cucumber slices in a sieve placed over a bowl and sprinkle with pinch of salt. Leave for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until cucumbers soften and their liquid begins to drain into the bowl. Stir occasionally.

Combine the tomato, onion, olives, parsley, dill, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Stir in drained cucumbers, then cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours or until serving.

For the chicken shawarma

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 ½ tsp. kosher salt

¾ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

½ tsp. ground cumin

¼ tsp. ground allspice

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. ground turmeric

2 ½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs or chicken breast tenders

8 pitas, lavash, or flatbread

2 cups shredded romaine lettuce

cucumber relish (see above) or a mix of diced cucumber and tomato

lactose-free yogurt-based sauce (such as tzatziki) or plain yogurt, for drizzling

Stir the oil, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, allspice, cinnamon, and turmeric together in a large bowl to form a paste. Add the chicken and toss to coat; let marinate at room temperature while the oven heats, at least 20 minutes, or cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425 °F.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or oiled aluminum foil. Place the chicken on the baking sheet in single layer. Roast until browned and cooked through, about 25-30 minutes.

Let cool 5 minutes. (If using pita or flatbreads, stack them, wrap in aluminum foil, and place in the turned-off oven to warm through.) Thinly slice the chicken crosswise.

To serve, divide the chicken among the pita, lavash, or flatbreads. Top with the lettuce and cucumber relish, and drizzle with sauce. For pitas, fold up the sides like a taco. For lavash or flatbreads, position with the long side facing you. Fold the bottom up and over the filling, then fold one side in towards the center over the filling. Continue rolling up tightly like a burrito.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

There are new chocolates in town

 I realized I haven’t talked about chocolate in a while, and I had photos just sitting around in my blog folder, gathering virtual dust, so…

First, there was Guittard’s 64% cacao tasting chocolate, L’Harmonie, that was absolutely lovely. It’s dairy-free (though could be cross-contaminated with milk) and has just the right amount of sweetness to me. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it in stores in a while.


My current go-to is Ghiradelli’s 60% cacao tasting chocolate, Evening Dream, which is really great. It contains milk fat but no lactose. It’s rich enough that sometimes, just one square (broken into little pieces) is enough for the evening, and it feels a bit refined – probably because it’s quality cocoa and not too much sugar. I love it!


I still can’t find my favorite Green & Black’s dark chocolate with sea salt anywhere, but they started making my Godiva dark chocolate with sea salt again, though the packaging has changed since I last saw it. I actually couldn’t find it again for a while, but then I did something crazy: I ordered a box of 10 right from the website and got free shipping thanks to a promotion, so it was really good value! (Plus, it was shipped with ice, so nothing melted on the way.)


Finally, there’s BE Chocolat, a Belgian-chocolate company started by French Canadians in Connecticut (!). I ordered from them for Easter, and the chocolate was REALLY good. While I was at it, I also got two of their rosemary raspberry truffles, which were exquisite. The rosemary is very subtle, but detectable, and pairs well with the raspberry and dark chocolate. The chocolate came with cold packs, but I still probably wouldn’t order in the middle of summer in Texas. That being said, since the shipping is relatively fast (assuming USPS is still operating as it should), you can actually wait for a cooler weather forecast to place your order, which is what I did.



Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Riz frit au boeuf et à la courge

 J’ai fait ce riz frit à la courge de Ricardo, en changeant quelques petites choses, et ça a été un succès! C’était à l’origine présenté comme une recette pour boîte à lunch, mais j’ai préféré la servir au souper – remarquez qu’on peut très bien emporter les restes au chaud dans un thermos le lendemain!

2 tasses (280 g) de courge butternut coupée en dés (environ ½ courge)

2 c. à soupe d’huile d’olive

1 tasse de bouillon de poulet

2 lb de bœuf haché mi-maigre

1 c. à thé de curcuma moulu

½ c. à thé de poudre de cari

4 gousses d’ail hachées

4 c. à soupe de sauce soya

4 tasses de riz basmati cuit (à partir de 1 ½ tasse de riz non cuit)

2 oignons verts ciselés

quartiers de lime, au goût

Dans une poêle antiadhésive, à feu élevé, dorer les dés de courge dans la moitié de l’huile (1 c. à soupe) 5 minutes. Ajouter le bouillon de poulet (j’ai aussi ajouté ½ tasse d’eau ainsi que du sel et du poivre) et poursuivre la cuisson jusqu’à ce que le bouillon soit complètement absorbé (j’ai couvert la poêle et j’ai vérifié que la courge était tendre). Réserver sur une assiette.

Dans la même poêle, dorer la viande avec le curcuma et le cari dans le reste de l’huile en l’émiettant à l’aide d’une cuillère de bois, soit environ 5 minutes. Incorporer l’ail et la sauce soya. Cuire 1 minute. Saler et poivrer, au goût (je n’ai mis qu’un peu de poivre, puisqu’il y avait déjà de la sauce soya).

(Ici, j’ai transféré le tout dans un wok, parce que je manquais de place dans ma poêle.) Ajouter le riz et la courge. Poursuivre la cuisson 1 minute. Parsemer des oignons verts et servir avec les quartiers de lime.