Baking TM_BK_SPICEC_AP_004

I was eight years old when I attempted to make spice cookies for the first time. I remember the day vividly. A snowy December day when my sister, brother, and I were all on vacation from school, stuck at home while our parents were at work. I started getting restless from watching Christmas movies all morning when I decided that I would bake. With no parental supervision, it was the perfect time to have the kitchen all to myself and get the mess cleaned before anyone returned home. With the kitchen left unguarded, I felt confident in trying a recipe from scratch.

But I was only a young girl. Still used to opening a box and adding eggs or oil and thinking I baked a masterpiece. Baking spice cookies was one of the times that I ventured away from the comforts of Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines and started from scratch. I dug through a drawer to pull out my mother’s recipe books. I sat on the floor, thumbing page after page trying to find a cookie recipe that interested me. Couldn’t do chocolate chip — I knew we didn’t have the chips. Oatmeal raisin was never my cookie of choice. But that’s when I came across spice cookies. That seemed interesting and different! I got up off the floor and started to get out the mixing bowl. MORE

DIY TM_DY_CANES_FI_001

Q: What do Tom Green, the Hoover Dam, and candy canes all have in common?
A: They’ve all been the subject of false rumors, perpetuated thanks to the Internet.

So for the record, Tom Green didn’t dress up as Hitler at a bar mitzvah, the Hoover Dam doesn’t have bodies of workers buried inside, and candy canes? Oh, where do I begin. Perhaps with a warning: other than grappling with a particularly divine-tasting edible, a column about foodstuffs isn’t normally the place to tackle religion. Today it is, because the candy cane and Christmas are as intertwined as the stick’s red and white stripes.
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Baking TM_BK_TRAVEL_FI_001

I know what it’s like to carry three dozen cupcakes on mass transit, and what happens when you pack a homemade pie into a carry-on bag for a multiple-hour bus trip. I’ll cut the suspense and tell you now: Neither story ends in catastrophe, but they surely were recipes for disaster.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. As bakers across the country dust off their rolling pins with holiday travel less than a week away, it’s possible to bake a dessert that makes it safely onto the table with proper planning and the right recipe. MORE

Thanksgiving TM_TG_SIDES_FI_002

As that fateful Thursday in November approaches, a seemingly endless shopping list runs through the mind of the cooks braving the task of cooking the Thanksgiving meal. Turkey? Check. Dinner rolls? Check. Potatoes? Check. Veggies? Check. Boxed stuffing, canned soup, canned cranberry sauce? Not for me.

For a holiday built around a soulful home-cooked feast, there sure are a lot of ingredients that come straight from a can or box. Now I understand for some who are feeding a family of 60 that cooking from scratch is an act of valor. But my family was never an overly large crowd, and even now as more of us get older, move away, have families of our own, the group is getting even smaller. So with this year’s smaller table, instead of sticking to the canned ingredients, we’ll be doing Thanksgiving sans the cans. MORE

Tea TM_DY_CHAI_AP_001

Of all the Madrid cafes that I could have been standing in, I somehow ended up at Starbucks.

Study abroad kept me away from home for a few months, and I was craving familiarity in the form of a warm, comforting drink. I wanted chai, the Indian take on tea. Masala chai is a daily Indian ritual – one cup in the morning and one following the afternoon nap. This variation on black tea is enhanced by spices and sometimes ginger. At first sip, the masala provides a kick that is accompanied by a rich black tea flavor. It has become comfortably settled in Indian culture, an inherent routine that simply exists without question. And so, because my parents drank chai twice daily, it had been incorporated into my routine back home in the States.
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Baking TM_BK_HUNCHOC_AP_002

Humans are the only creatures who tell stories, and for many of us, we tell stories with the food we make and share. Rigó Jancsi, otherwise known as Hungarian chocolate cake, is a dessert that tells a beautiful story of late 19th century romance, passion, and adventure. But it also tells another story for me, personally — of my Grandma Betty, her baking, and the love of an artform she passed on to me.

In 1896, violinist and Hungarian gypsy Rigó Jancsi performed in a Parisian restaurant, where Prince Joseph de Caraman Chimay and his wife Clara Ward, the Princess de Caraman Chimay were dining. Story has it that Clara was seduced by the talented violinist, fell in love, and left the Belgian prince to be with him. Some sources claim the dessert is named after Rigó Jancsi because he worked with a pastry chef to create it to surprise Clara, while others state that the pastry chef named the cake after the violinist following his purchase of it for Clara.

Less than 40 years later, Betty Ward, née Elizabet Hamvas, traveled with her family from Hungary to the U.S. in 1930 at the age of six. And while I don’t remember growing up with many traditions from her home country, or even learning the story of the debonair Hungarian violinist until I was in my late twenties, I will never forget her Hungarian chocolate cake. MORE

Ingredient TM_IN_RUTAB_FI_001

The Rutabaga. It sounds like the name of a retro car, like a cross between a Studebaker and a Winnebago. It might just be me, but this inconspicuous root vegetable is puzzling, and frankly, doesn’t look any more appealing than a Studebaker-Winnebago hybrid would. A waxy turnip-like nub that’s slightly purple-brown in color, the only thing that caught my eye about the humble vegetable was its price – on sale for 99 cents per pound. I loaded up my grocery basket with rutabagas.

Soon, I found myself in a conundrum, as I often do. As a thrifty shopper, my budget decides what I pick up in the grocery store, which usually includes in-season produce that, sometimes, is unrecognizable to me. Which is why I was staring at three pounds of rutabagas in my kitchen without the slightest clue what to do with them. I had never even eaten a rutabaga before, let alone cooked one. Are you supposed to peel it? Which side is the top? Clearly, I needed help. So I began researching recipes online, trying to find something to do with this week’s sale item.
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Kitchen Hacks TM_KH_MUFFIN_FI_001

I hope the giddiness I get from not following the rules anymore never fades as I go further into adulthood.

For example, I slept perpendicular-ly on the bed last night. Why? (Well, partially because I’m pretty short). BECAUSE I CAN. Deal with it.

This may be most exciting with food choices. Want to have Nutella for (not with) lunch? You’re allowed. And even if your idiosyncratic cravings don’t flout nutritional wisdom, it’s liberating just to know that nobody’s watching what you do anymore. (Things I have eaten as meals in the past month include: a chicken finger wrapped in a slice of plastic American cheese; a tub of hummus; a batch of miniature donuts; a carrot; wine; a jar of sun-dried tomatoes I got free from work; and a bag of popcorn drizzled with hot sauce.) Again, deal with it. MORE

The Larder TM_TL_CANDY_FI_001

My mom grew up in the fifties and sixties, in one of those idyllic suburban neighborhoods where kids walked to school unsupervised and played outside in the afternoons until the streetlights came on.

There was no better day of the year in her community than October 31. The streets would fill with miniature hobos, ghosts and witches, all clutching brown paper shopping bags to hold their treats, warm winter coats concealing most of their costumes.

These were the days before candy companies got wise and started producing snack and “fun” sized candy bars and long before homemade treats were deemed dangerous. This meant that my mom’s grocery sack ended up filled with full-sized Snickers and Chunky bars, freshly baked gingerbread men from Mrs. Rath and Mr. Brown’s famous popcorn balls. MORE

DIY TM_DY_ESPANO_FI_001

“Un pincho de tortilla y un café con leche, por favor.”

It was an almost-daily order. The café near my little casa in Madrid had the best tortilla española around. And with a cup of espresso with milk, I was a happy girl. My options at such cafés were usually limited because I was a vegetarian. I had underestimated how difficult studying abroad in meat-loving Spain would be. I usually had two possibilities: tortilla española and gazpacho. As winter was approaching in my time in Madrid, the chilled gazpacho was not usually served, so tortilla was my go-to dish. MORE

Baking TM_BK_PEARS_FI_001

It’s easy to get swarmed by the flavors of fall. From baked goods and main dishes to coffee and even beer, it seems like everywhere you turn is apple-cinnamon this or pumpkin-spice that. Fall is my favorite season, so I’ll admit that I’m guilty of embracing all of it (as I sit here in my room with my cinnamon pumpkin wall plug-in). And the amount of apple pies, tarts, butters, and strudels I make can get a little obsessive.

It’s important to remember that the season brings so much more than just apples and pumpkins. Take pears, for example. They’re in season beginning in late August, meaning that right now they are hitting their peak. I myself, being an equal opportunist, am putting a hold on my apple-fest and shifting my dessert focus to pears.

Why have pears become fall’s forgotten fruit? In many ways, a pear can be used in the same ways apples are. Like an apple, pears have a thin, but tough outer skin with a crisp and juicy center. These tender, yet firm fruits lend themselves to a variety of uses. You can enjoy them whole, diced into a salad, juiced, pureed, and even baked. That’s one of pears’ little secrets: They are just as wonderful for baked goods such as pies, tarts, and cakes as the fall favorite, apples. MORE

Madame Fromage TM_CH_SPAIN_FI_01

Right around the time I start digging out my sweaters, I begin to crave Spanish cheese. That’s because I associate Spain’s notoriously dense wheels with autumn smells – dry leaves, cool earth, a hint of wood smoke – and, especially, fall colors. A golden wheel of aged Mahon can be brighter than any maple, and a russet wheel of Ibores (rhymes with Delores) pops like neon pollen on new sidewalk.

Spanish cheeses take their color from spices like paprika, the source of Ibores’ rouge coat, and sometimes olive oil, which lends the surface of Mahon its characteristic dark gloss. Cheesemakers rub these ingredients into the rinds as the wheels age, a process that adds flavor – not just to the surface, but also to the paste as the spices slowly penetrate to the core. MORE

The Brew TM_BR_RAUSCH_FI_001

The aroma of wood smoke is something that is particularly tied to the fall season for me. Sure, cool air, changing leaves, and pumpkins get me in the fall spirit too but it isn’t until that first whiff of campfire that I’m really there. Here where I live, in the mid-Atlantic, as September heads into October the weather takes a perfect turn for the backyard campfire. In the town where I grew up, you could almost always pick up the scent of burning hardwoods in the air during autumn months, especially if it was coming from the elaborate fire pit my parents constructed in our backyard.

Now, fall already has its fair share of seasonal flavors that like to imbue themselves upon every imaginable edible product. You’ll find caramel apple flavor in all your hot beverages, butternut squash in everything on every restaurant menu, and, of course, pumpkin spice flavors in all food and drink products sold between the months of September and December. But my treasured smoke, on the other hand, gets less attention. Honestly, that’s probably for the best; I don’t think smoked Oreos would go over that well. There is one place, however, where smoky flavors work quite well: within the flavor profile of beer. MORE

Baking TM_BK_HAZEL_FI_001_1

What does the word “hazelnut” bring to mind? Do you automatically recall the famed stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth chocolate and hazelnut spread?

You’re not alone. Most people think of Nutella — the popular chocolate and hazelnut spread — when hazelnuts are mentioned. That, or in my case, the Ferrero Rocher chocolate candies my mother always received in her Christmas stocking from my grandmother, despite not caring for the confection. This treat consists of a whole roasted hazelnut with a hazelnut cream, dipped in milk chocolate and chopped hazelnuts and wrapped individually in gold paper. Decadent much? MORE