Friday, March 7, 2014

What is inspiring (lately)

March is kind of a rough month, isn't it? There is no Valentine's day to brighten it up and the weather is turning towards spring but is not spring yet. The result being everything just looks a bit dirty and beat up from the winter without the hopeful green buds of new growth to pull us along.

But, despite my gloomy outlook on March in general, I do find myself inspired these days and thought I would share these sources with you, with the wish that you would be similarly inspired through these last weeks of winter.

This movie
  • I tend to love any and everything Jane Austen and Kerri Russell is too darling in this film. (At any given point in time I have an Austen novel on my nightstand. Right now, it is Pride and Prejudice. Do you have an author that you're almost constantly reading?)
This blog
  • I love Elise's blog because it embraces caring for home and loved one's- nurturing relationships and creating beautiful welcoming spaces. Inspired by her, I now have houseplants. (Please see the picture below. That I have managed to keep a fickle fiddleleaf fig alive is a source of great pride.)
This new scarf collection
  • Blockshop Textiles just released their Spring/Summer line and it is gorgeous. While some women dream of Birkin bags or Tiffany jewelry, a handmade, hand stamped piece of wearable art is where it is at for me. Yes, I consider it an investment. But after I took the plunge last year and purchased one of their scarves, I have not regretted it once because I have worn it like four times a week.
This chocolate peanut butter cheesecake
  • This cheesecake is over the top in the best possible way. I made it last weekend and brought it into work where it was well received. One thing I love about cheesecake in general- it is so rich and decadent that while it is a bit of work to make, it will serve a crowd. 
This pasta roller
  • A pasta roller was part of my valentine's gift from my husband (don't worry, I asked for it!) I have been intimidated about making my own pasta but I am amazed at really how easily it all comes together. It is time consuming but the results are just beyond delicious. 
Eating dinner here
  • A few weeks back, I was able to spend a long weekend in Seattle with my sister and her husband. I have been a fan of Molly's blog for a while and took the opportunity to dine in she and her husbands restaurant. It was one of those rare times when the actual event lives up to the anticipation of it. The food was just crazy good and the staff could not have been nicer people. As I write this, I am swooning at the memory of one of the desserts: a lemon budino. (Budino is like a type of Italian pudding, but I suspect the word may also translate as heaven.) To further emphasize how much we loved it, I should disclose that after 2 appetizers and 3 pizzas (split amongst three people) we ordered all three desserts on the menu because when the food is that good, you just pray you can live up to the opportunity. If you live in the Seattle area or will be visiting, I highly recommend it. 
Oh, and this blog too
  • Please do not think that because this is last on the list that it is somehow of lesser value in my mind. This blog of 3191 Miles Apart is a celebration of everyday beauty. The authors also publish a quarterly magazine that is written by them and a collection of photographs, recipes, musings and general loveliness. (The paper stars in the top picture are from instructions in one of last years issues.) Without pretension or preaching, the writers share their worlds in a way that encourages engagement in the beauty of daily life.

Monday, March 3, 2014

poppy seed dream cookies

My love of shortbread is not be underestimated. It was one of the first recipes that I made that  really hooked me into cooking and baking- that I could create with my own paws in my own kitchen a cookie that I adore so much? Then there are no limitations in life.

I am, a bit of a shortbread purist and find myself eyeing skeptically any recipe that claims "shortbread" but includes too many additions like chopped toffee, etc. To me, shortbread cookies are best left unmussed and if one should add to them, it really needs to be justified. Enter poppy seed dream cookies.

These little cookies are from the shortbread cookie section of a wonderful Greg Atkinson cookbook, West Coast Cooking. I actually stumbled into the cookbook while in Vegas. My husband and I had a reunion with Alaskan friends in Vegas and all went to dinner at Jose Andres restaurant Jaleo in the Cosmopolitan. I adore Jose Andres' food (that lucky Gwyneth Paltrow got to cook with him at her house!) and the Sangria is particularly lovely. Anyway, after dinner we all marched around the Cosmopolitan and stopped in at a little specialty cooking store. It was there that I first saw the West Coast Cooking cookbook. Because we were walking around, I did not purchase it (backstory: I was ready to swear on my Sangria-buzzed life that I could walk all over Vegas and still carry this cookbook, but my husband in his wisdom prevailed). However, the next day when I went to Amazon-it, I found that it was no longer in print (Thankfully, that is no longer the case. Paperback copies are available now here). Oh, the heartbreak. A few weeks later my husband was going to be out of town for an international trip and surprised me by setting up a present-a-day for me to open while he was gone (don't worry, I realize that I am completely spoiled). I believe around day 3, this book made it's appearance. So, that very long story is to say that anytime I make anything from this cookbook, I think of the lovely time in Vegas catching up with friends, Jose Andres Sangria, and my sweet husbands gifts.

After all that build-up of anticipation around this cookbook, I should say that I adore it. Being a west coast girl my whole life, I love seeing the voice and style of the food captured in one tome, which Atkinson does so well.

Normally, when I make cookies, I eat one or two the evening I make them and take the rest into work to share or give them to my husband to take into his office. When I tasted these cookies I knew I was in trouble - they are that wonderful buttery shortbread thing where they are not too sweet and with the tenderest crumble. I kept them at home and did not share. The poppy seeds give a nice textural nuttiness. Also, they are a bit saltier than I am used to for shortbread, but I found that I liked it.

As we head into baby shower and bridal shower and graduation parties and mother's day and spring tea  party season, I think these cookies would be most welcome at any of those events. Just a little bit different, but still all the refinement of a shortbread cookie.

poppy seed dream cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 3/4 cups unbleached white flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1) Here is where you do something rather interesting with the butter: melt half the butter (1 stick) in the microwave. Put the other half (1 stick) in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Then pour the melted butter over the cold butter and mix on medium speed until all the butter is smooth and creamy.

2) Add the powdered sugar and almond extract to the butter and mix until light and fluffy.

3) All at once, add the flour, cornstarch, poppy seeds and salt and mix on low speed until it all starts to come together and form a dough.

4) Dump the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a log about 3 inches in diameter. Wrap the cookie dough log well in the plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or until it is quite firm. I found I needed a bit longer than an hour.

5) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 sheets with parchment paper. Cut the log of dough into 16 rounds and evenly space the cookie slices over the baking sheet.

6) Bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on cookie racks. Store extra cookies in an airtight container at room temperature. I found mine kept for about 5 days. Enjoy!