New Year/New Beginnings

Hello, everyone!

As the title of this post suggests, it’s a new year and it’s time for some new beginnings. To that end, I have decided to start a new blog in order to follow my foodie passion. Rather than the mix of things that Rough Draft has become, Fearless Kitchen will be dedicated to my love of making, eating, and sharing good food. I would greatly appreciate if those of you who would like to continue reading my posts head on over to fearless-kitchen.com and subscribe.

The content hosted on Rough Draft will not be deleted. I may still update this site with my random musings. Please note, however, that all food-related posts will be updated exclusively on Fearless Kitchen.

Thank you all for your endless support– you have made my experiences so far in blogging enjoyable and rewarding. I hope I can continue entertaining you and exciting your taste buds over at Fearless Kitchen!

Chicca

Hazlenut Macarons with Chocolate Ganache + Mastrad Kit Review

First of all, happy new year to everyone! I appreciate all the support I received from all of you in 2013 and hope to give you an even better blogging experience in the coming year.

I’ve got to be honest about the past few weeks. I’ve missed some prime blog posting time by not blogging about Thanksgiving or Christmas. Thinking about all the pie and cookie opportunities I have passed up is saddening. But I hope that these little, heavenly, sweet and delicious New Year’s beauties might make up for some of it.

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Instead of doing Thanksgiving this year, I went to Paris to visit the boy and fell in love with all the food. One of my favorite parts of the trip was the macarons—light and yet moist, sweet and yet not overly so, these cookies are what is served in baker heaven. Because I loved them so much, my family gave me a macaron kit for Christmas. Secretly, I think they wanted in on some of the delicious fun, too! It turns out that the secret that makes these cookies so extravagantly delicious also makes them wicked difficult to make.

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I’m sure most of you already know that macarons are a hard cookie to master. I had heard this before, but it didn’t really hit home until I started to make them. The cookbook that came with the kit basically told you to mix the batter thoroughly, but not too thoroughly! Bake them until done, but not too done! Everyone’s oven is different and only experimentation will tell you how is best to cook your macarons! There is even an entire page dedicated to what you can do with your “imperfect” cookies.

Again, I had heard this, but I am the kind of person to think that because I am resourceful if not sort of experienced, things will turn out differently for me. I even decided to up the ante by adding ground hazlenuts to the cookies. This time, I proved myself right. With what may have been a severe dose of beginner’s luck, I ended up with a good number of cookies that are not cracked, are cooked well, and that taste delicious.

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To make these guys, I followed the basic French Merengue recipe in the Mastrad French Macarons cookbook. I added 1 tablespoon of ground hazelnuts and filled the cookies with a simple chocolate ganache. Before baking and before the cookies set, I topped some of them with clear decorative sugar crystals.

I am not being paid to write a review of the Mastrad Macaron Kit, so I can say with a good conscience that it is flippin’ awesome. It comes with a silicon macaron baking sheet with little wells that help keep your cookies looking fly (and, well, circular), a reusable silicon pastry bag that is lovely to use, a pastry bag stand, and a variety of shaped piping tips. The kit also comes with the cookbook. Really, the only extra tools you will need are a flat metal baking sheet on which to put the silicon mat and the mixing bowls for your ingredients. I have only two small complaints: one is that the silicon baking mat is slightly too large for a standard baking sheet. The second is that I haven’t yet figured out how to fill the pastry bag without whatever I’m filling it with oozing out the bottom. There very well may be a way to stop this, but I haven’t yet figured it out. If anyone has tips, I would very much appreciate them.

Overall, I am extremely happy with the kit and I look forward to using it to continue perfecting my macaron skills. Given how happy my family and the boy were to sample my new skill, I think I will have some willing taste testers!

Butternut Squash Soup

There is something about winter that calls for soup. Specifically, the rich, thick, stick-to-your-bones, keep-you-warm kind of soup that makes you feel like you’re curled up in front of the fireplace, even though your NYC apartment certainly does not have the proper permits for one. I know it’s not really winter yet– we still have many colder months to go– but the briskness in the air is starting to signal that it’s a soup time of year.

My first journey into soup territory was only six weeks ago. Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have seen the tomatillo soup I made in late September. Surprise! I had never even tried to make a soup before that. Since then, I’ve made a delicious and hearty stew, a quick and yet tasty French onion soup, and the star of tonight’s meal: butternut squash soup.

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Thanks to my parents’ decision to clean out their kitchen storage spaces, I am the proud new owner of a very nice immersion blender. I am so thankful, because without this little (well, big) gadget, I would never have been able to make this incredible meal. While it’s a bit time-consuming to roast everything, there are ways to cut the time down. If you hate wielding a knife against a large, difficult piece of squash just as much as I do, feel free to buy the pre-cut cubes of squash. It’ll save you a lot of time and will still taste incredible. 

This soup is hearty enough that it stands confidently on its own, and versatile enough that it would be wonderful paired with another dish. The sweetness of the squash roasted with brown sugar pairs well with the spiciness of the cumin, giving the soup a surprising depth. It’s rich, it’s deceptively filling, and it definitely creates that warm feeling inside you, like curling up in a blanket on a cold night. 

And now, without any further ado, please let me introduce you to this soup. I’m sure you two are going to be great friends.

Butternut Squash Soup 

2 lb butternut squash, in about 1-inch cubes
32 oz low-sodium chicken broth
3 large carrots, cut small enough for your blender to handle*
2 medium onions
Olive oil
A pinch of red pepper flakes
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground cumin**
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp cream per bowl (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lay the butternut squash and carrot pieces on a baking sheet and coat with about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix well so that all chunks are thoroughly coated with oil– this will prevent them from sticking and give them a nice color in the oven– then sprinkle with brown sugar and ground ginger. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until a fork can be easily inserted into squash and carrots, stirring the mixture at around 15 minutes. 

While the squash and carrots are roasting, chop the onions. In a heavy-bottom pot, heat about a tablespoon.5 of olive oil with the hot pepper flakes over medium-high heat. Add the onions when the oil is fragrant and shimmering. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Allow them to cook, stirring to avoid burning, to desired softness or until the squash and carrots are soft enough, then lower or turn off the heat on the pot.

When the squash and carrots are ready, add them to the pot with the onions. Even if the squash was thoroughly coated with oil, there may still be parts of it stuck to the baking sheet. While the baking sheet is still hot, add a bit of chicken broth to it and scrape the burned bits and leftover caramelized brown sugar from the pan, then carefully pour the liquid and chunks into the pot. Add the cinnamon and cumin to the pot and mix well. 

With the immersion blender I found it easiest to add all the liquid to the pot and completely submerge the head of the blender while letting it do its thing. If you are using another type of blender, it may be best to add the liquid in stages. It’s your call. Blend carrots and squash to a pleasant consistency– mine was smoothish but a bit chunky. 

Once blended, heat soup thoroughly. Serve immediately, stirring in 1-2 tablespoons of cream per bowl if desired. Finish with freshly ground pepper. 

*I cut the carrots in half lengthwise and again into three short sections, cross-wise, so that they would roast in about the same time as the squash pieces. My immersion blender didn’t end up liking this, though if you’re using a slightly larger blender it may not matter. If your blender is also a bit finnicky, roast the carrots at this size and then cut them into smaller pieces before adding to the pot. 

**We only have cumin seeds– not ground cumin– in our apartment, so the cumin I used was freshly ground. Pre-ground cumin may not have the same level of flavor, so you might need to adjust the amount of cumin to taste. 

New Chapter: Also Currently Untitled

I’m back. It’s been a while since I’ve last written anything meaningful, not to mention a blog post, but this morning I’ve finally started to write again. 

The past months have been transitional in many ways. After finishing my thesis (my last post topic), I graduated, said goodbye to a large number of friends and places and bits of normalcy, got a real-person job and a real-person apartment, and moved into a new city that I had always visited but had never been a part of. I started a new life. The verdict is still out on whether or not I am happy, but people keep telling me that I am young and shouldn’t yet have any idea of what I want to do. I am hoping that time proves them correct.

In the meantime, I am trying to appreciate everything to not take things for granted. I’m trying to act like I did when I was abroad, where everything was a new experience and everything was worth experiencing, but it’s hard to get into that mindset. I am too close to home even as I am far away from everything I have ever experienced before. I keep trying to tell myself that this is a new beginning, and that everything is as good as I make it. 

So here is to new beginnings. Here is to the twenty-second (almost twenty-third) year of my untitled rough draft, and here is to the first pages of a new chapter that no one– not even me– knows the storyline to. It’s going to be an adventure. I hope you stick around for it.

Mini Thesis Survival Kit

I’ve been absent, I know.

My thesis is due on Monday– the final, final draft– and after a semester and a half of researching it, writing it, rewriting it, rewriting it again, and now finally reorganizing the entire thing a week before it is due, I can’t say I will be sad to be done with it. I love my topic and it’s been a fun time, but all good things must end.

In case anyone else is struggling their way through thesis/work/a slump/rough times, here are a few things that have been getting me through this week:

 

1. A chill grooveshark playlist (it’s repetitive, but it gets the job done): http://grooveshark.com/playlist/Studying/85491420

2. Cute puppies: http://imgur.com/gallery/ZDUTy

3. Coffee.

4. A daily– hourly– reminder from many someones that it’s almost over, I can totally do this, and that there is no doubt that I will make it out okay.

5. And this: Image

Yes, this is as adorable as it looks. This is a real live Thesis Survival Kit, a box filled with a pick-me-up a day for this last week before my thesis is due. If someone you love is going through tough times, struggling with work, or could use the closest thing to a week-long hug, make one of these for them. It will brighten their (many) day(s).

 

My break time is over and I’m heading back to thesising, but good luck to everyone out there who is also chugging along. Catch you on the flip side of this milestone.

 

-Chicca

Pumpkin Bread & The Long Hiatus

Hello! Happy holidays and almost happy new year to all my readers!

Every time I come back from some sort of break I feel an urge to write a witty yet apologetic blurb about where I’ve been. This time, I’m going to keep it short and sweet so we can get to the good stuff: I’ve been busy, busy, busy– senior year is the craziest I’ve ever been in my entire life– but thanks to winter break I’m back for at least a little bit. It’s a couple of days early, but my New Year’s resolution is going to be to blog more, bake more, and knit more.

The good thing for all of us is that I’ve already started this resolution! I left my sweater at school, but I’ve been working on a pair of fingerless gloves for my cold dorm. I’ve also been doing quite a bunch of baking, like this lovely pull-apart cinnamon-sugar pumpkin bread:
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I don’t know what it is about pumpkin, but I could eat it pumpkin baked goods all year round. Maybe it’s the spices used with pumpkin, the feelings it conjures, or the aura of fall that surrounds it. Whatever it is, pumpkin baked anything just makes me feel at home.

The recipe for this pull-apart bread (found here) is wonderfully easy, even though it’s a yeasted bread. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of experience working with yeast; I’m the type of girl who usually to whip something up, pop it in the oven, and be done with it, and usually can’t be bothered to wait for something to rise. This bread has taught me that the waiting is worth it.

This bread was everything I look for in something with pumpkin. It was spiced, sugared, and the yeast gave it a depth that pumpkin pie doesn’t have. To top it all off, the sugar in between the layers got gooey, sticky, and scrumptious in the oven. The original recipe calls for an additional sugared glaze on top, but the bread is sweet enough that it’s prefect without the glaze. It was so good, in fact, that when I made it this past fall, Clara and I ate the entire thing in one sitting.

If you have some time to bake bread over these holidays, I would highly recommend baking this. It might not be fall anymore, but it’ll make any place feel like home.

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Next up: New Year’s cupcakes!

Foodie Confession + Quiche Bliss

Okay, I have a very important confession to make to you all.

I know I bill myself as an adventurous eater. It’s true– I love food, and I will try almost anything at least once. But I feel like I would by lying to you all if I didn’t come one hundred percent squeaky clean:

There is one food that I absolutely cannot stand. It is my food nemesis. If this food were a villain, it would be the most evil of all villains and the thwarter of all my plans.

My food nemesis is eggs.

Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of weird reactions from people when I tell them this. “Eggs?? You don’t like eggs??” is the most usual one, but it’s ranged from incredulity all the way to unadulterated disgust. Most people just don’t understand it. I don’t eat them for breakfast, I don’t eat them for lunch, I don’t even eat them green with ham. Unlike the Dr Seuss character I have tried eggs before making up my mind; my mom tells me that when I was a kid I used to eat an egg sandwich every morning for breakfast. I was way too young to remember this, and sometime between then and my first memories some great change came over my body to make it rebel against all things eggy. I can’t eat french toast that has been soaking for too long because I can taste the egg in it. Breakfast sandwiches are off limits, and even egg drop soup is sometimes too much for me. Hell, I can’t even stand the smell of eggs cooking. It makes me want to hurl.

It might come as a huge surprise to you, then, that one of my favorite foods is quiche. That’s right. I can’t stand eggs but I love a food that’s essentially egg pie. In reality, though, quiche is so much more than that. It’s veggie-filled, cheese-gushing goodness that’s been poured into the mother of all baked things– a pie crust. There is so much deliciousness that radiates from quiche that not even eggs could taint it. Really, what more could you ask for from a food?

 

Seriously. Is it not the most delicious-looking thing you’ve ever seen?

 

I have been going absolutely crazy with my internship this summer (which finally ended yesterday, by the way, and while it was a great experience I’m also glad it’s over), but I did have time recently to have a fun cooking day. And– you’ve probably guessed it by now– I made a quiche.

The recipe I used was (highly) adapted from the McCall’s recipe for Quiche Lorraine, but considering I had a ton of spinach and onions in my fridge I decided to do something completely different from what the recipe said. I ended up putting so much filling into the quiche that I had  bunch of the extra egg/cream mixture left over (whoops), so the measurements that I used are in the recipe below with what I guess would be better measurements in parenthesis.

So, without further ado:

Spinach and Onion Quiche

(Crust secret: I had some time to be in the kitchen, but not a lot of time. So I cheated and used a store-bought pie crust. Shhh. I recommend Trader Joe’s but the Pillsbury ones are also good!)

6 eggs with 1 white separated (4 would probably be better)

3 cups light cream (I used a mixture of cream and skim milk, and 2 cups would probably be better)

1/2 lb gruyere, shredded

1 1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

dash of red pepper flakes

1 large onion

1lb spinach, washed and chopped

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Saute the spinach until wilted, then let it cool.

3. Slice the onions, then throw them in a pan with a little oil. When they’re close to being finished, add a little white wine and let it reduce.

4. Place your pie crust in a sprayed or buttered pie plate and brush the entire surface with the egg white. Throw the leftover egg white into the bowl in the next step.

5. Combine eggs and dry ingredients in a bowl, and beat together.

Ahh, my nemesis. You are so delicious when baked in a quiche.

6. Beat the cream in slowly until just combined– don’t let it get frothy.

7. Layer about half the cheese evenly onto the bottom of the pie crust.

8. Drain your spinach. Seriously, you want to get it really, really dry– I recommend actually wringing the water out with your hands. Get your spinach as dry as you can. Drain your onions, too!

9. Layer the veggies into the pie crust, then coat evenly with the rest of the cheese.

10. Pour the egg mixture in.

11. Cook for 50-55 minutes, or until the center of the quiche is firm.

12. Let sit for 10 minutes to set, then enjoy!

Bon appetit, everyone!

I Got My Feet On the Ground

Hello, hello! I have a huge project due for my internship early this coming week so I am working away, but I wanted to pop in to post something because I have been neglectful.

Here are a couple of videos to keep you entertained while I toil away:



1. Sleep to Dream– Fiona Apple

The reason I made it through this week.





2.  For Women Who Are Difficult to Love

A poem, a treatise on love, and a beautiful reminder.Thank you, Alex.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone! Be back soon.

The Darkest Day

I’ve found that the best way to calm an overactive mind is distraction. So, without further ado, I present to you:

10 Steps to get over heartbreak: an interactive list. 

1. Listen to some crappy heartsick music:

2. Spend a lot of time with your lovely friends.

3. Cry… a lot.

CRY THIS MUCH
(also, as a side note, this is a photo from Iguazu!)

4. Listen to some awesome heartsick music and watch a silly music video:

5. RetailTherapy.

6. Read some inspirational words, and believe them.

7. Be active.

8. Cook some awesome meals.

Sausage-stuffed potatoes from Smitten Kitchen (click for recipe)

9. Take some deep breaths.

Or, alternatively, get out there with a camera.

10. Let go.