It’s autumn here in Vietnam, but you wouldn’t know it, to the extent that we’re going to the Tam Dao mountain region this weekend to escape the heat. But! I know it’s properly autumn somewhere, so the least I can do is offer a few seasonally appropriate (for temperate regions) recipes to cozy up to. They’re all from Mark Bittman’s impossibly useful cooking apps, How to Cook Everything, and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian – both of which are great in that the recipes are simple, but the techniques are sound, and the adaptations are numerous and truly inspired. I don’t mind being out of wifi zones anymore, because I know I can make virtually any taste of home just through a quick search on my iPod. Brilliant.
So, the honour of being the last proper cookie I made (properly baked cookie) goes to a gingersnap that embodied within it’s tiny wafer-small body the whole of what a proper gingersnap is, was, and should ever be. It was snappy. Not crisp, but it broke like a piece of hard wood and then dissolved into ginger-hot crumbs that stuck in my teeth like anything made with a whole cup of molasses really should.
I had to savour it. Oven-less at the moment, I have no way to make more. But back home I made a whole arsenal of these little perfections for about as much trouble as it takes to mix a few things in a bowl, make a log, and then slice it – the easiest kind of cookie ever. It’s the kind of thing that brings to mind elder relatives – in the best way – and my gratitude goes to whoever Aunt Big is and her recipe that has ended my search for the perfect gingersnap.
from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
- 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup molasses
- 1 heaping teaspoon baking soda
- 31/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 heaping tablespoon ground ginger (or more)
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch salt
Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter, sugar, and molasses until smooth. Mix the baking soda with 2 tablespoons hot water and beat into the dough.
Combine the flour, spices, and salt in a bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the dough and beat well. Shape the dough into 2 long logs, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight (or wrap very well in plastic and freeze indefinitely; you can proceed to Step 3 with still-frozen dough).
Heat the oven to 350°F. Slice the cookies as thin as you can and bake on ungreased baking sheets until golden around the edges, about 10 minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning. Use a spatula to transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. Store in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to several days.
* * *
These muffins were so incredibly light, so innocent tasting, barely sweet but toasted outside and feathery delicate inside, with sinful caverns of gooey milk chocolate and moist from shredded ripe Anjou pears – I could only imagine them improved with some cliched scene of enjoying them at an old-world writing desk with a mug of hot pomegranate tea big enough to drown all your erased sentences in (starkling bright window view of trees and birds probably necessary).
Featherlight Pear & Milk Chocolate Muffins
adapted from Mark Bittman’s Muffins, Infinite Ways, in How to Cook Everything
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/4 cup melted butter, cooled
- 2 eggs, separated
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup shredded juicy pear
- 1/3 cup chocolate pieces
Preheat your oven to 375 and lightly grease a muffin tray. (If you want to use paper liners, I would recommend spraying them with spray oil).
Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Beat together the egg yolks, milk, vanilla and melted butter in a medium bowl.
Whip the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Add the egg yolk and milk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until almostcombined, then fold in the egg whites. The batter should lumpy and moist – add more milk if necessary. Then, scatter the chocolate and pear over top and fold them through with two or three strokes. Spoon into muffin cups and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until nicely browned on top and set in the middle.
* * *
By glazing the carrots first, this soup gets a surprisingly deep flavour, and is super creamy without using dairy at all. It’s a celebration of carrots! And just a bit spicy from the mustard… a bit wild from the honey. Best afternoon snack ever.
Glazed Honey-Mustard Carrot Soup
adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
- 1 1/2 pounds carrots, sliced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey (strongly flavoured is good here)
- salt and pepper
- 6 cups vegetable broth or water
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, chervil, or spring onion, for garnish
Put the carrots, butter, mustard, 3/4 cup water, and the honey in a soup pot and turn the heat to high. Sprinke with salt and pepper, then bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, turn the heat to medium-low, and cook for about 5 minutes.
Uncover and raise the heat a bit. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the carrots are cooking in the butter. Lower the heat and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are very tender, about 10 minutes more. If they start to stick or brown, add a a tablespoon or so of stock.
Add the stock and turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the syrup at the bottom of then pan. Lower the heat so that the stock gently bubbles and cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens slightly, about 10 minutes more.
Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pan or cool the mixture slightly, pour into a blender container, and carefully puree. (The soup may be made ahead to this point, cooled, and refrigerated. Serve cold or gently reheated.) Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve, garnished with a sprinkle of something green.
* * *