one of my best friends, j, introduced me to vegan goddess isa chandra moskowitz back in college. isa’s mexican hot chocolate snickerdoodles were our favorite cookies to bake – so fast, so easy, and with ingredients that we usually already had on hand – and one of our friends’ favorite cookies to eat. as college kids, we were always looking for minimal effort, maximum payoff recipes, and isa came through again and again. my friend is such a fan of her, I think he owns every single cookbook by her! (and because of him, I’ve added a few to my collection – isa does it is a particular favorite of mine.
these days, the recipes I choose tend to be longer weekend projects, require at least 12 hours of chilled rest time, call for specialized ingredients, or take many, many steps. it was a welcome change to reach back into the vault, make some vegan chocolate snickerdoodles (with a few modifications j and I have made over the years), and reminisce a bit back on the days when j and I mixed these up in communal dorm kitchens with whatever bowls and utensils we could find, baked them up yellowed, likely inaccurate ovens, and still somehow emerged with something delicious every time.
1 preheat oven to 350ºF. line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. 2 mix sugar topping ingredients together in a shallow bowl. set aside. 3 in medium mixing bowl, vigorously whisk together oil, sugar, syrup, milk, and vanilla extract. 4 sift in remaining ingredients. once all ingredients are added, use a rubber spatula to fold ingredients together until dough is pliable and no streaks remain. 5 roll dough into walnut-sized balls (~30g). roll around in the sugar topping. transfer to baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart, then flatten into disks with ~2-in diameter. (I like to use the bottom of a cup to flatten, but the palms of the hands will work too.) if the dough is weepy (e.g. leaving little oil puddles), refrigerate for at least 10 minutes and up to half an hour before baking. 6 bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are crackly on top. remove from oven and let rest on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool.
for the first time in a while, I picked up a fairly short, breezy read, a actual work of fiction. I’ll admit it only caught my eye because the author’s name is andrew sean greer, which immediately reminded me of a friend from high school who went by sean andrew – god forbid you ever address him as just sean.
maybe the whole netflix-driven marie kondo craze had me feeling in the mood to spark some joy in my life, because though the book, less, did not immediately pull me in (the main character is anxious, indecisive, bumbling, a bit forgettable – not the classic traits of a novel’s hero), I kept reading. it’s a travel-driven plot done well, with tons of cheeky literary references that anyone who loves the english language would appreciate, and each page brings more often hilarious, sometimes poignant incidents that draw the reader in further.
I think the moment I fell in love with the book was during the chapter in berlin, when the author described what made arthur, the main character, so alluring:
“he kisses – how do I explain it? like someone in love. like he has nothing to lose. like someone who has just learned a foreign language and can use only the present tense and only the second person. only now, only you.”
what a beautiful way to describe a kiss, to condense the romantic ideal of love all into that one affectionate action. there were so many parts of the book that had me openly smiling in public, and after I finished the book, I reread it three more times.
anyways, I realize that this little ode to less has little to do with the gluten-free buckwheat chocolate chip cookie recipe below. but like realizing while reading a book that you’ve found a work that will become one of your favorites, when I smelled the ingredients mixing together and tasted the raw cookie dough for this recipe, I knew I’d love it. and experiencing that previously unknown, almost-nutty taste of buckwheat, perfectly tempered by the light sweetness of coconut, certainly sparked some joy.
makes 18 cookies
330g (2 3/4 cups) buckwheat flour
30g (1/4 cup) shredded, unsweeted coconut
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
113g (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
52g (1/2 cup) coconut oil, at room temperature
150g (3/4 cup, packed) light brown sugar
150g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
226g (8oz) bittersweet chocolate chips (at least 60% cocoa)
flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
lisa ludwinski. sister pie: recipes and stories from a detroit bakery. new york: lorena jones books, 2018.
1 in a medium bowl, gently whisk together buckwheat flour, coconut, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, and cinnamon. set aside. 2 in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter, coconut oil, and brown and granulated sugars on medium speed until homogeneous and paste-like (~4 minutes). 3 add eggs and vanilla and mix until fully combined (~2 minutes). scrape bowl thoroughly using silicone spatula, being sure to reach to the bottom of the bowl. 4 add flour mixture slowly and mix on low speed until flour is almost completely incorporated and only a few streaks of flour remain. using spatula, fold in chocolate chips. if you notice any flour at the bottom of the bowl, use spatula to finish mixing process. 5 scrape cookie dough from bowl onto big sheet of plastic wrap. wrap dough tightly and transfer to your refrigerator to rest for 24 hours to 3 days. (dough can also be frozen for up to 3 months.) 6 preheat oven to 350ºF. line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 7 take dough out of fridge 2-3 hours before baking. once dough has softened, use 1/4-cup measure to portion dough into 2-inch (or ~64g) balls. place on parchment-lined baking sheets. slightly flatten each cookie with palm and top with a few flakes of sea salt. 8 transfer baking sheets to oven and bake for 16-18 minutes, until edges are just slightly golden. 9 remove baking sheets from oven and transfer cookies to wire racks to cool. store in airtight container for up to 5 days.
my father recently texted me a photo of a dish he’d made, nigella lawson’s mughlai chicken. apparently he read in a hospital waiting room magazine that it was one of taylor swift’s favorite dishes.
that’s when you know a famous person has becomes a true household name: when your 60-year-old father is texting you midday something he learned about said celebrity while killing time in the waiting room of a hospital.
anyways, reading over the recipe reminded me of a dish I used to enjoy making a few years back but hadn’t done for a long long while, meera sodha’s pistachio and yogurt chicken curry, or pista nu murghi. turns out I got déjà vu because both recipes are pulled from mughlai cuisine, the food of the medieval mughal empire.
the mughal empire spanned two prosperous, culturally definitive centuries before declining rapidly in the early 1700s and fading out with a whimper in the 1850s at the hands of the rapacious british east india company. these days, a friend of mine informed me, young people in the cities don’t even learn hindi and instead have english as a first language. in fact, he was a bit offended when I assumed he spoke hindi because he was born in delhi and lived there until moving to the us for graduate school – I still don’t think that’s a crazy assumption to make! then again, I guess it’s like how my cousins who grew up in hong kong speak perfect continental english but not much cantonese (as we learned during one unfortunate taxi ride that cost us too much money and dumped us unceremoniously on the wrong side of the island).
I’ve always wanted to be fluent in my mother tongue, but in the absence of language, I’ve found other ways to honor my heritage, largely through food. and I suppose my friend has made his own peace as well – he may not be fluent in hindi, but he sure makes a mean chana masala.
makes 4 servings
4 oz unsalted pistachios (plus more to serve)
2-in piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 tbsp canola oil
2 large onions, sliced into fine rings
2 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 3/4-in cinnamon stick or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 3/4 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs, chopped into 3/4-in cubes
1 cup hot chicken stock
4 tbsp greek yogurt (plus more to serve)
juice of 1/2 lemon
meera sodha. made in india. new york: flatiron books, 2015.
1 in food processor or spice grinder, grind pistachios into fine powder and set aside. bash up ginger and garlic into a coarse paste using a mortar and pestle and set aside. 2 in a wide-bottomed, lidded frying pan, heat oil over medium heat and when hot, add onions. fry until caramelized (~20 minutes). add garlic and ginger paste and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes before adding tomatoes. 3 cover with lid and let tomatoes cook until they start to break down (~ 5 minutes). add black pepper, garam masala, chili powder, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt. stir, then add chicken pieces to the pan. 4 turn chicken so that the exterior on all sides cooks, then add ground pistachios. stir-fry for another minute, then pour in chicken stock. lightly whisk yogurt with fork, then stir into pan. cover with lid and cook until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (~15 minutes). taste and adjust to taste. 5 serve with a dollop of yogurt, chopped pistachios, and a squeeze of lemon juice. eat with a bowl of basmati rice or some naan (or both!).
I’ve wanted to post a recipe for tortilla española, or tortilla de patatas since 2015, when I got back after walking the camino de santiago. an older couple I met on the camino sent me a picture a week after we’d all gotten home and even then, though so few days had passed, it invoked a wave of nostalgia.
one of the things I’d heard before heading off to spain was that the food was dirt cheap, but you also eat the same meals day in and day out. breakfast every day consisted of two options: energy-rich tortilla de patatas (essentially, potatoes, eggs, and oil) or sugar-filled chocolate napolitanas (spanish croissants). I caved eventually and went for the short-lived joy of chocolate-fueled sugar rushes, but one of the guys I walked with, b, loved tortillas so much, he ate them every day for breakfast. he even started keeping a rubric of which places had the best ones – his favorite was one whose texture was so soft, it was almost pudding-like, and which was served plain without any of the additions (bell peppers, red pepper sauces) that some places used to try to spice things up. in santiago de compostela, at the end of the camino, I asked him if he was sick of tortillas yet, and he responded “never”. he actually went on to say he would miss them! (though a moment later, he admitted that he was ready to eat something else for a bit.)
a friend who walked part of the camino with me recently texted me that she’s thinking of walking another branch of the camino after she graduates grad school. we both commented on how much we missed it – the simplicity of life lived out of a backpack, the certainty that every day will end with forward motion and a destination, and hours filled with good conversation with people who become lifelong friends, and the moments where the only sound is the wind in the grass and the thud of your feet and finally, one can truly be alone with their thoughts.
so I gave the tortilla española another go. over the years, I had tested out other recipes before, none that quite captured what I remembered. this time, I finally found one that takes me back to spain, to those early mornings spent walking in the crisp air, gazing down in the mist-filled valleys, to sunsets enjoyed on the side of mountain roads, to one of the best summers of my life. I wish I could join my friend, and I do hope one day to walk on the camino again, but in the meanwhile, I’ll continue to tackle culinary approximations of cherished memories.
note: read through the whole recipe beforehand – there’s some steps where things move very quickly!
makes one 10-inch tortilla
4-5 russet potatoes (~2lb)
1 spanish onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup + 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
10 large eggs, room temperature
alexandra raij & eder montero. the basque book. new york: ten speed press, 2016.
1 peel potatoes, then rinse under cool running water and cut lengthwise into quarters. cut quarters crosswise into 1/8-in thick slices. (you should have at least 4 cups of potato. if you have more, that’s fine; if you have less, cut up another potato.) 2 in a large saucepan, combine potatoes and onion, canola oil, and 1/2 cup olive oil. add enough salt to season the vegetables, not the oil. place over low heat and cook for 30-40 minutes, until vegetables are tender. 3 remove from heat and drain vegetables in a fine-mesh strainer, reserving the oil. store oil in fridge for future use. set vegetables aside. 4 heat 2 tbsp olive oil in 9-10-in nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. while oil heats, beat together eggs with 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl until just blended. add potatoes and onion (which should still be warm) to eggs and fold them gently with a rubber spatula to combine. 5 when the oil starts smoking, swirl it up onto the sides of the pan to prevent tortilla from sticking. pour egg mixture into pan and toss mixture aggressively about three times (I use the rubber spatula to assist), then let sit for a minute so the bottom starts to form a skin. 6 prod the mixture with spatula around the edges to start shaping the tortilla and prevent it from sticking to the pan. use the spatula to shape the sides, pushing the mixture gently from the sides of the pan and shaking the pan to make sure the mixture does not stick. 7 when egg is just set (~1 minute), turn down heat to medium-low and cook 1 more minute. invert large plate on top of pan (it must cover the entire tortilla). firmly grasp the pan handle, choking up on it with the help of a kitchen towel or oven mitts, then place free hand palm down over plate and flip the pan and plate over together, dropping tortilla onto plate.* place pan back on burner, wipe clean, and re-coat with remaining 1 tbsp oil. heat oil over medium-high heat until it begins to smoke, then quickly and deliberately slide tortilla off plate into pan. pat down tortilla with spatula and begin shaping its sides again. cook for 1 minute. repeat flip and return process turn heat to low, and cook for another 2 minutes. repeat flip and return one more time and cook for another 3 minutes over low heat. flip and return one final time to get the presentation side facing the bottom of the pan, then using a clean plate, flip tortilla out so that the pretty side is facing up. 8 let rest for an hour at room temperature before serving. cut into wedges to serve. tortilla española is also often served between two pieces of crusty bread with a drizzle of olive oil.
* I tried to explain this process as well as I could, but if you’re still not sure, youtube has a bunch of good videos that show you how the flipping should be done.
I recently met up with a friend in the new bookshop in town, shakespeare and co. the shop itself is beautiful, with a well-curated book collection housed on floor-to-ceiling bookshelves straight out of beauty and the beast, a small cafe and ample upstairs seating, and what looks like a printing press, where the store will “rewrite” any children’s book and rename the main characters the names of your choosing (for a fee, of course). I thought it was a fun new local joint, but actually comes to philadelphia by way of new york.
anyways, my friend is a classical musician, which may explain her penchant for places with an old world vibe. back when we worked together, we’d hop in her mini cooper (sadly lost to a flash flood) on some evenings and go to the opera, and some evenings, we’d settle into a corner in monk’s cafe, a low-ceilinged warren of dark, ornamented wood. every summer, she teaches at a music festival in portugal, where the buildings have beautiful tiles and massive iron-framed windows, but no air conditioning. this past summer was particularly brutal and she ended up cutting all her hair off just to make the heat slightly more tolerable, but she keeps going back partially because she loves the bygone romance of a small town like porto.
I share some of her admiration of tradition – though I enjoy the viral recipe as much as the next person, I really love a dish with history. part of what motivated me to start cooking was the realization that I could not name, much less cook, many of the chinese dishes my parents made. when I read cookbooks, I love the little asides about baking in the kitchen with grandmothers and aunts. similarly, a friend of mine, before he went vegan, used to make rugelach around rosh hashanah every year. the crescent shape is beautiful, and though the cookies look a bit rustic, with bits of caramelized apricot jam oozing out of the folds, they have that special nostalgia factor that makes them a winner at any gathering. this is not his family’s recipe, but it is from an acquaintance of ottolenghi’s, so you can trust it (!), and it’s quite close to what I remember.
makes 24 rugelach
pastry 160g all-purpose flour 1/8tsp salt 1/4 tsp baking powder finely grated zest of 1 small lemon (~3/4 tsp) scraped seeds of 1/4 vanilla pod 125g cold unsalted butter, cut roughly into 3cm cubes 125g cold cream cheese filling 40g walnut halves 100g soft light brown sugar 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 150g apricot marmalade 1 tsp lemon juice glaze 1 large egg, lightly beaten 25g demarara sugar
yotam ottolenghi and helen goh. sweet. london: ebury press, 2017.
pastry|1 in a large bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking powder, lemon zest, and vanilla seeds. add butter cubes and use a pastry blender to cut butter until mixture has texute of fresh breadcrumbs. add cream cheese and cut until dough comes together and can be rolled into a ball. (be careful not to over-mix or pastry will become tough!) 2 divide pastry into two parts, wrap each half loosely in plastic wrap, and press to flatten into discs. transfer to fridge to chill for at least 1 hour. 3 preheat oven to 350ºF. line two baking sheets with parchment. filling|1 spread walnuts on baking tray and roast at 350ºF for 5 minutes. remove from oven, set aside to cool, then chop finely and place in small bowl with brown sugar and cinnamon. mix together and set aside. 2 in separate small bowl, combine apricot marmalade and lemon juice to form smooth paste. if marmalade is too firm, microwave at 10-second increments until soft and spreadable. assembly+glaze|1 on a lightly floured work surface, roll 1 disc of chilled dough into a 9-inch circle. use a small spatula or back of spoon to spread half of marmalade evenly over surface, then sprinkle with half of sugar and nut mixture. use pizza wheel to cut dough into 12 equal triangles. one at a time, roll each wedge tightly, starting from the wide outside edge towards the center, so that the filling is enclosed. 2 place rugelachs on lined baking trays, seam side down, spaced ~1 1/2-in apart. repeat rolling process with remaining disc of dough and filling ingredients, then chill rugelachs in fridge for at least 30 minutes before baking. 3 when ready to bake, lightly brush tops of rugelachs with egg wash and sprinkle with demerara sugar. bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating trays halfway through, until golden brown. remove from oven and allow to rest on trays for 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.
I recently went to the cheesecake factory in the first time in forever. it was certainly a walk down memory lane – when I was in middle school, the cheesecake factory was so popular that every location I went to had a 30 minute wait. my friends and I loved eating a slice of cheesecake after shopping so we’d stop in to pick up a buzzer, then kill another 30 minutes wandering around the mall. I wonder if they still have those buzzers somewhere in the back, gathering dust.
I can distinctly remember the last time I went to the cheesecake factory. it was the spring of my senior year of high school and I was down in baltimore for a former friend’s senior piano recital (mine had been earlier that month). my piano teacher took us out to the cheesecake factory at inner harbor and told us we could order anything. j and I knew that our teacher was a huge health fiend and we wanted to impress her, so we ended up with lettuce wraps and two kinds of salads! I can’t even recall if we ended up ordering cheesecake – my lasting memory is of feeling very silly and dissatisfied with what amounted to three gigantic plates of lettuce.
despite our poor food decisions, I look back on that night with happiness. to share a meal with my mentor, a woman I admired so much, I’d written part of my college essay about her, and with my best friend at the time felt like the perfect bookend to four difficult years in the competitive classical music world.
since then, much has changed. I thought j and I would be lifelong friends, but turns out life had other plans. I also kind of thought I’d walk away from piano forever – at that point, I was just so done with the competitive classical music world and it hadn’t really entered my mind that I could keep playing just for pleasure. (I’m glad I eventually came around.) my tastes in desserts have changed as well – I remember thinking the cheesecake factory had the best pastas and that nothing was more delicious than their oreo cheesecake. I used to be able to eat two slices all on my own and still want another!
these days, my tongue – and my metabolism – prefer desserts that are not overwhelmingly rich. lately, I’ve been really enjoying these vanilla sablés, buttery one-biters with a bit of sanding sugar crunch sprinkled on top like a layer of freshly fallen snow. they’re simple yet beautiful, especially as they catch the light nestled in the gift box of cookies.
makes ~30 cookies
226 g (16 tbsp) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, room temperature 100g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar 30g (1/4 cup) confectioners’ sugar, sifted 1/2 tsp fine sea salt 2 large egg yolks, room temperature 2 tsp vanilla extract 280g (2 cups) all-purpose flour sanding sugar, for sprinkling
1 in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together butter, both sugars, and salt on medium speed until smooth but not fluffy, ~3 minutes. reduce mixer speed to low and one by one, beat in yolks, followed by vanilla extract. (I used a rubber spatula and mixed by hand in a large bowl.) 2 turn off mixer and add flour all at once. pulse mixer until risk of flying flour has passed. with machine on low, mix just until flour disappears into dough. give dough a few turns with a sturdy flexible spatula to make sure there are no flour streaks. (again, I mixed by hand with a rubber spatula.) 3 turn dough out onto counter and divide in half. shape each half into 9-in log, wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze for at least 3 hours and up to 2 months. 4 when ready to bake, preheat oven to 350ºF. 5 slice logs ~1/3-in thick. place rounds ~2 in apart on parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with sanding sugar. bake one sheet at a time on a center rack for 17-20 minutes. let rest for ~10 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. *cookies can also be baked in muffin tins: 1 instead of rolling dough into logs, roll each piece 1/4-in thick between pieces of parchment. slide parchment-sandwiched dough on baking sheet and freeze for at least 1 hour, or refrigerate for at least 2 hours. 2 grease a regular muffin tin, cut out dough rounds with a 2-in diameter cookie cutter, and drop rounds into muffin tin. save dough scraps, gather, re-roll, chill, and cut. sprinkle tops of cookies with sanding sugar. 3 bake at 350ºF for 16-19 minutes, let rest for 10 minutes, then carefully lift cookies out of tins onto wire rack. let cool to room temperature.
so I was chilling in my apartment, popping an ibuprofen while peering at my computer screen. I then got a super random text from one of my friends saying “okay so I texted you and then I realized I texted the wrong person! now I’m stuck hanging out with someone else!”
I was, of course, super confused because this message came out of nowhere. turns out she had tried to text me but had texted someone with the same name as me! I guess that person really wanted to see a movie, because though they’re not close at all, she agreed to go to the movies with my friend, who did not realize she’d invited the wrong person until she was at the theatre. haha! I got some fun texts from her, but I think she managed to enjoy herself despite the mix-up.
my friend made a silly mistake, but it got me thinking about how at one point in my life, if I had made a mistake like that, I probably would have taken it quite seriously. in general, I’ve always taken mistakes and criticisms more personally than I should. it’s an insecurity I’m constantly working on, and the older I get, the more I’ve come to terms with the fact that there will always be external challenges that seem overwhelming and all I can change is my confidence in my own ability to overcome them. in the words of another friend, “apparently our 30s are like the 2L of life. just as hard as our 20s, but we are more equipped to handle what’s thrown at us.”
it’s been a difficult past few weeks, and I really do appreciate the messages I’ve received from friends checking in on me and offering to hang out if I need a break, though they know full well I’ll be deliriously incoherent and probably not too much fun. (in other words, r, though you ended up hanging out with the wrong person, I appreciate the thought!)
anyways, here’s what you came for: a quick cookie recipe from joanne chang, my favorite baker. she once said this was her favorite cookie recipe, and if you love chocolate and gooey centers and chewy, crispy exteriors, this could be your favorite cookie recipe too. as for me, I had all the ingredients and all the insomnia and this is what came out of it.
joanne chang. flour: spectacular recipes from boston’s flour bakery + cafe. san francisco: chronicle books, 2010.
1 in a heatproof bowl, combine the 113g unsweetened chocolate, 140g bittersweet chocolate, and butter. place over barely simmering water in a saucepan, stirring occasionally, until completely melted and smooth (make sure the bowl is not touching the water!). remove from heat and whisk in vanilla extract. refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. 2 using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat sugar and eggs on medium speed until light, thick and pale yellow, ~5 minutes. (I did this by hand and it took me ~12 minutes.) on low speed, slowly add chocolate mixture and mix for ~ 15 seconds; the mixture will not be well-mixed at this point. 3 in a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, expresso powder, and remaining 56g unsweetened chocolate, 113g bittersweet chocolate, and walnuts. 4 using a rubber spatula, fold flour mixture into sugar-chocolate mixture until flour is completely incorporated and dough is evenly mixed. 5 scrape dough into airtight container and let rest overnight in fridge (or at least for 3-4 hours) before baking. 6 preheat oven to 350ºF. drop dough in 1/4-cup balls onto parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them 2-in apart. 7 bake until cookies are cracked on top and soft but not liquid when pressed in the middle, ~15 minutes. let cool on baking sheet for ~15 minutes, then transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely. 8 cookies can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, and unbaked dough can be stored in airtight container in fridge for up to 1 week.