Baking TM_BK_CUPCAK_FI_001

Yes, I bake cupcakes. Lots of them.

Until a few years ago, this wasn’t a controversial hobby. I’ve been a baker for as long as I can remember, graduating from watching my Grandma Betty make chocolate chip cookies in her sunny upstate New York kitchen to writing my own cake recipes and starting a baking blog.

Before becoming the dessert to hunt after — or sneer at, depending on your tastes — cupcakes were the kind of thing your mom threw together the night before you needed to bring a treat to share at kindergarten. A box of mix, a plastic tub of frosting, and maybe even some rainbow sprinkles. Cupcakes were made for church bake sales and baby showers, or really any event where it makes life easier when you can simply hand someone their portion in a tidy wrapper.

But my, how times have changed. Ever since Sprinkles Cupcakes opened in Beverly Hills in 2005, and we all watched Carrie lovingly bite into a Magnolia cupcake on Sex in the City, cupcakes have watched their star rise high. And for many, it has risen too high.
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Ingredient TM_CK_BLUBRRY_FI_002

I like to think that most grandmothers spend their free time playing bingo or Mah Jong with their friends, but not mine. My grandmother’s idea of a good time was meeting her girlfriends at the local blueberry farm to sit and pick berries while chatting under the summer sun. After a few good hours of blueberry-picking, my grandmother would swing by our house to drop off some extra pounds of blueberries she managed to pick while getting lost in conversation. Her donations, combined with our own family trips to the blueberry farm and my father’s all-day hiking trips through our wooded backyard to pick wild berries eventually led to a blueberry overload summer after summer.

Come mid-summer, both fridge and freezer would be bursting at the seams with blueberries, though no one ever complained. July was always an uncomfortably hot month, but its saving grace was that it ushered in blueberry season. I would get excited after Independence Day rolled by, knowing that, soon, the house would be littered with the small indigo berries. In no time, our blueberry stockpile would grow, and then the rest of the summer was marked by us trying to find ways to eat them all. We would dump them into our morning cereal, make smoothies, pies, muffins, turnovers, or just eat them plain — fresh or frozen (which to me, tastes almost as good as ice cream). Our kitchen has gone through its fair share of blue-stained wooden spoons, and the freezer always had a ready-to-bake pie tucked in the back for a special occasion later in the year.
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Letter From California TM_LC_DONUTS_AP_001

Let me preface this by saying: I love remembering Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Super Mario Brothers Super Show, and Lady Lovely Locks.

See? I can be nostalgic.

But too much nostalgia is a dangerous thing. How many comedians have you seen, listicles have you read, or TV shows have you watched that don’t make jokes or have a point, but just reference things from your childhood? People use nostalgia as a shortcut to good feelings, a little lever we experimental-rat humans can push to get fed pellets of pleasant memories.

That’s why, when I heard that the Northeast-concentrated chain Dunkin‘ Donuts was coming to Southern California,* my response was a simple “meh.”

See, I grew up in northern New Hampshire, in a small town where Dunkin‘ defined donuts for me – in a good way. I fondly remember the tactical challenge of eating a jelly donut, trying to keep the messy explosion of powdered sugar and jelly from going anywhere other than my mouth. And Munchkins! Those wonderful little boxes of donut holes that, because they were small, allowed you to eat several different flavors of donuts without feeling like you were going to ralph.

But my current home, Los Angeles, is arguably the best place in America to eat donuts, which is why it makes me cringe every time my northeast brethren say they’re so excited Dunkin‘ is comin‘ to town. Because guys, I gotta tell you, I’ve eaten donuts as an adult, and Dunkin’s donuts taste weird. My boyfriend encouraged me to say that Dunkin’s offerings have a “signature flavor.” Well, their signature flavor would best described as “kinda off,” and they also have a signature mouthfeel – a weird coating feeling similar to what you get when you eat McDonald’s fries.
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Ingredient TM_CK_YOLKS_FI_002

When it comes to eggs, it seems that white is becoming the new black. Possibly in response to the obesity-epidemic or as a result of required calorie-counts on menus, many fast-food chains are now serving “lighter option” egg white products. McDonalds, Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, Jack-in-the-box, Starbucks, and Sonic have all started supplying their stores with egg white menu items. Even the frozen food section is now showcasing frozen egg white breakfast sandwiches from major producers like Hillshire Farm and Kelloggs.

With all these big name food companies using egg whites it should be no surprise that we have hit an egg white crisis. Since 2013, egg white prices have soared to record-breaking highs of over $8 per lb. Dried egg white stocks have also been reported to be at startling lows, which leaves farmers and egg suppliers to “force molt” chickens in order to keep up with the demand.

But as a health conscious cook, I’m at a stand-still. It’s nice to see these healthier options available, but even I’m starting to grow tired of the high protein/low carb trend. Like a second coming of the Atkins diet, protein is becoming the macronutrient of choice for most dieters once again. Although it is true that egg whites are high in protein and contain zero fat and cholesterol, I’m a yolk kind of girl. Cholesterol-raising irrationalities aside, egg yolks are extremely nutritious – in my opinion, more so than egg whites. Egg yolks do contain fat, but it is vitamin-packed fat. Protein in no way, shape, or form is lacking from the American diet, but many fat-soluble vitamins, essential fatty acids, and other vital micronutrients are. Not to mention egg yolks taste way better.
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Baking TM_BK_SHORTCK_FI_001

As a child, the turning of the calendar page to June meant that a visit to see my grandmother and aunt in LaFayette, NY would be around the corner. My mother and I would pack a suitcase, wave to my father and German Shepherd Sasha as we pulled out of our driveway in southeastern Virginia, and began what seemed like the longest car ride ever up north, peppered with Phil Collins cassette tapes and quick fast food meals eaten in the car.

The reward at the end of the 9-hour drive, thankfully, would be my grandmother’s strawberry shortcake. She would pick the berries in the morning while we were driving up and bake the subtly sweet biscuits in the afternoon. We would arrive shortly before dinnertime, and after having a light meal, she would step away to make fresh whipped cream. Then the shortcakes would be served.
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Snack Break TM_SB_BUNDT_FI_001

The summer of 1982, when I was 12, I did not do “quite as many things as I did the last” according to the annual report my parents made me write before school started again. But “I did a lot of fun small things.” One of those fun small things, I noted, was bake a cake with my grandmother. I recall it as the first real cake I ever made — no box of mix or mom measuring the flour while I stirred.

My grandmother lived in Pennsylvania, far across the country from us in California. We rarely saw her, or any extended family for that matter, and I always liked it when she visited. On this occasion, she was babysitting while my parents traveled to Northern Italy, Budapest, and Vienna (according to my handy summer report, which I found recently in a filing cabinet in my parents’ house).

The idea to bake the cake was certainly hers. She’d probably planned to make it herself, as something nice to serve my parents after their long flight home. But, perhaps tiring of me reading romance novels and floating in the swimming pool every day, she gave me the task. Grandma was hard-working and restless, and she couldn’t appreciate reading novels and sunbathing.
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Dispatches TM_FP_FORAG_FI_001

Towards the end of our foraging journey, there was a flurry of excitement. Someone had spotted a lone morel mushroom growing on the side of our trail. This sought-after fungus, for which connoisseurs will pay up to $35 per pound, was the most valuable find of our entire trek, but no one ventured to pick the specimen — perhaps because of its neighbors. The cone-shaped mushroom grew right next to a leaky-looking battery and just steps away from a rusty razor blade.

We weren’t foraging in a beautiful park or someone’s woodsy backyard. No, on this Sunday morning, we were looking for edible and useful plant life in “The Cut” — an abandoned, four-track-wide section of Philadelphia’s abandoned Reading Viaduct railroad, sunk some 40 feet below street level. We entered, somewhat ironically, through a chain link fence separating the encroaching wilderness from the employee parking lot of a Whole Foods market. A few members of the tour took the opportunity to forage for some coffee inside before signing the requisite waiver form and venturing down the parking ramp and into the unknown. After circumnavigating a moderately sized pile of general trash, it quickly became clear that this little section of abandoned city space was home to more than just weeds and rats (and a few vagrants). Tall grasses, sprawling bushes, and full sized trees had spent the previous few decades reclaiming The Cut and creating an impromptu slice of nature.
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Baking TM_BK_MUFFIN_FI_001

Everyone has a pet peeve. Some people are sticklers for grammar, while others can’t bear their food touching. These minor aggravations seem silly, but we all know how infuriating a pet peeve can be. I, too, have a pet peeve, but mine is serious. I’m confronted by it so often — almost on a daily basis — that I’m close to my breaking point. From my neighborhood coffee shop to the supermarket, I can’t escape it: the muffcake. Like when someone uses the wrong “there” or slurps their soup, my blood boils when I see a cupcake being advertised as a muffin.

Allow me to fill you in on a little secret: the muffin at your coffee spot is probably a cupcake. The dozen you can buy at the grocery store? Yeah, those are cupcakes, too. In my opinion, there are probably few muffins in this world that aren’t actually cupcakes.
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Breakfast TM_DY_BAGELS_FI_001

When the Atkins Diet crashed upon America’s shores with its wave of red meat and energy bars, I thought I was too smart to believe anything it claimed. After all, I don’t even believe in dieting per se — just that you should try to eat healthy foods and consume fat, sugary, and processed foods in moderation. But even now, when the Atkins wave has long receded, and Paleo is hopefully on the wane, I was surprised to find that a bit of its flash-in-the-pan advice had stuck in my head: I should avoid carbohydrates. Wait, I’m sorry: carbs.

Now, logically I know this isn’t true. After all, six ounces of steak is never going to be healthier than six ounces of brown rice. But still, every time I want to eat a bread product, something tugs at me: Isn’t this bad for me? That’s why, when I do eat bread products, I always try to do two things — eat something that’s made with whole wheat flour, and make it myself.

That’s the primary reason why I make my own bagels: I feel like if I put the effort into making them, they’re better for me. But homemade bagels are also pretty damn delicious. How delicious, exactly? Well, not too long ago, my roommate’s boyfriend came into my room clutching the last bits of a bagel I had just made. “This made me fall in love with you,” he said.
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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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Forgotten Foods TM_FF_CHOCO_FI_001

Any women’s health magazine worth its low-sodium salt substitute can tell you about three things: How to flatten your abs, how to please your man (yoga helps, ladies!!!!!!), and how to scientifically justify eating chocolate.

Fitness Magazine lists “Four Reasons to Eat Chocolate on a Diet,” citing chocolate’s cough-fighting and tooth-strengthening theobromine, anti-diarrheal antioxidants, and skin-protecting flavanols. Women’s Health mentions a study from Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism noting that chocolate milk worked just as well as “recovery drinks” in helping negate post-work soreness. Even sugar-phobic clean-eating magazine Oxygen says that dark chocolate’s catechins may aid in weight loss.

Of course, many of these studies are funded by, well, chocolate companies. And it’s not as if these studies are lies – the cocoa plant does contain all of these good things. But most adults also have the good sense to know that just because there are flavanols hiding somewhere in our chocolate bars doesn’t mean we should nosh on those sugar-filled treats multiple times a day. (Although a study funded by the US National Confectioners Association showed that “there is no link between the number of candy-eating occasions” and obesity. Not that candy doesn’t cause obesity, just that there isn’t a link between obesity and how many times you break off a piece of your Kit-Kat bar.)
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Ingredient TM_IN_CHOCDIN_FI_001

Who says you can’t have chocolate for dinner? I don’t mean devouring half a dozen Twix bars and counting it as a meal. Polishing off an entire carton of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream by yourself doesn’t count either. I’m talking about using chocolate as an element in a savory dish. Yes, chocolate playing the role of something besides sweet.

When we think about chocolate, we almost always think of desserts. But chocolate, in its raw form, is anything but sweet. And utilizing it as a savory ingredient is anything but new. Over 2,000 years ago, before it was ever combined with sugar to make the confection we’re most familiar with today, the Aztecs and Mayans consumed chocolate in the form of a thick, bitter drink. Cacao beans were fermented, roasted, and then mixed with water and spices to make xocoatl, from which chocolate originally got its name. Chocolate has been, and can be, more than just a candy or dessert.

Incorporating chocolate into your dinner meal isn’t as challenging as you’d imagine. Plenty of savory foods have a natural affinity for cocoa-based flavors. Consider the classic pairing of chocolate with spices and chilies in a Mexican mole sauce. Or take gamey meats like lamb and venison, which marry well with cocoa-driven richness. Often times, the bitter notes in dark chocolate work to highlight hidden flavors and assert depth in a dish that was otherwise missing it.
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Baking, Gluten Free TM_BK_GFBREAD_FI_001

Gluten-Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread lays out author Nicole Hunn’s tried-and-true methods for serious gluten-free bread, from sourdough to bagels to pumpernickel. In this excerpt, you’ll find sandwich breads, hoagie rolls, and a foolproof flour mixture. The book is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

Gluten-free bread dough of yore (and by “yore,” I mean just yesterday) was always heavy and slick with moisture, and almost always enriched with some combination of eggs, fats, sugars, butter, and yogurt. There really wasn’t any sort of gluten-free bread that rightly could be described as “lean,” meaning bread without most of those enrichments. The extra moisture was required because many of the gluten-free flours absorbed extra moisture, and the ever-present enrichments added structure, mouthfeel, taste, and, in some cases, more moisture. If you have ever heard gluten-free bread dough described as being similar to cookie dough, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Can I get an Amen?
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DIY TM_DY_ANIMAL_FI_003

I’ll admit it. When I moved into my new apartment this year, along with my sheets, coffee mugs, and suitcase, I toted along a value-sized tub of animal crackers. It was the kind you could find at your local wholesale club, weighing in at over two pounds, and it didn’t even last three weeks.

Even as a grown adult, I still haven’t grown out of my love for this hallmark childhood snack. I like them plain, dunked in tea, or dipped in peanut butter, but while I was noshing on my latest tub of animal crackers, I noticed something I didn’t like: the ingredient list. Enriched flour, soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin…for such a simple snack, I was surprised to see such a long list of unnecessary and unnatural ingredients. To think that the miniature animals I had so lovingly craved were actually filled with chemical additives was appalling. That was when I began thinking of trying my hand at making my own.
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Bookshelf

Homey, Not Homely

Bringing glamour back to winter baking with Wintersweet

by

TM_BK_WSWEET_AP_001_2For those of us who like to bake with the seasons, the winter months often feel less than glamorous. Gone are the berries and stone fruits of summer and instead, we’re left with an assortment of sturdy apples and homely squash. Good for the occasional pie, but not much else, right?

As Tammy Donroe Inman’s new book Wintersweet: Seasonal Desserts to Warm the Home proves, that notion is entirely wrong. This volume shows with style and ease just how varied and delicious winter desserts can be. The photography is beautiful and inspiring, and the writing is personable, fun, and crystal clear. Arranged by main ingredient (Apples, Pears & Quince, Nuts & Chocolate, Citrus, etc.), Wintersweet includes both twists on classics (Ginger Apple Crumb Cake) as well as novel end of meal offerings (Honey-Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese and Walnuts).

As I read my way through the book, I marked more than half the recipes as things I’d like to try and finally settled on three that were perfect for this holiday season.
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