I started writing this post numerous times, trying to figure out how to just come out and say it. I skirted around the issue. I sugar-coated it. But here, I’ll just come out with it: I stole this cookbook. No really, I full-on stole it. And it’s fabulous. Now let me explain: This fall, I was an intern at a local weekly paper here in San Francisco. It started out strong with assignments, bad coffee, and seminars touching on San Francisco history and politics. I was engaged. I envisioned a future with me traipsing about the city covering local food and culture. I wouldn’t make much money, but I’d be happy. And well-fed. But in a very short time, the support faded and I found myself at a dark, windowless desk trying to look busy and not sulk that nothing I ever wrote seemed to make it to the right person’s desk. The scheduling of the internship was such that I couldn’t accept a full-time job anywhere, and I was the oldest intern by a solid ten years. I kept telling myself it could go somewhere. Who knows? In the meantime, I got to know Twitter. I did a little online shopping. I taught myself photo editing techniques, and learned a little hmtl code. I even wrote letters to relatives I hadn’t seen in way too long.
The high point of each day was checking the mail. I spent way more time on the task than my fellow interns, making piles for the appropriate editors and studying the upcoming events and book releases to see what might be worth checking out. And then, there were the days when publishers and PR folks would send books, cd’s, free tickets and the like. So now you can see where this is going. On a particularly dreary and stormy afternoon, my editor received a recipe compilation from the editors at Food & Wine entitled, Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes. In it, the they’d gone through the most exciting cookbooks from 2009 and pulled their favorite dishes. Ah hah. It must be mine. I looked around and slid it into my welcoming messenger bag. I know, I know–stealing’s never good. Even if you are a jaded, overqualified intern. And after a mere few hours, my conscience started to get the best of me. So I left a note. It went a little something like this. Dear ______ (overworked editor): You got a cookbook in the mail today and I’m borrowing it for research purposes. Let me know if you ever need it back. Thanks, Megan (intern in the back left corner). There. Phew. Now it wasn’t technically stealing. And guess what? The editor that rarely published my pieces also never checks her mail. Imagine that. Three months later, that note’s probably still sitting there. Lucky for us because now I can share these cookies with you.
Now I’m the kind of gal that sticks to a recipe once I find one I like. I commit to it wholeheartedly. I’ve got my rock-solid pie crust recipe, my favorite brownie recipe, the best onion casserole you’ll ever taste. So I don’t often set out looking for other pie crust recipes or new and better brownies. And with snickerdoodles, I’m faithful to Magnolia Bakery’s recipe. They’re thin and chewy with a crackled sugar top and a classic sunken center. I’m particularly fond of crumbling them over vanilla ice cream and berries in the summer or eating them right out of the oven with a cup of milky coffee in the winter. That being said, I was intrigued by Mani Niall’s recipe for Cinnamon Cardamom Snickerdoodles from Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes. The recipe is pulled from Niall’s book, Sweet! in which he explores recipes using all different kinds of natural sweeteners (this is one of the few recipes using white sugar) such as agave, honey, and muscovado sugar. He aims to improve familiar recipes by varying the sweeteners to avoid processed sugars and blood-sugar spikes. I’ll be honest. I wasn’t drawn to this recipe for any of those reasons. I simply love cardamom and had never considered using it with a classic snickerdoodle recipe. The result is quite magical.
Cardamom is a spice that’s used in a lot of Indian and Middle Eastern dishes for it’s complex, aromatic, spicy-sweetness. It dresses up these cookies like nothing else. If your typical snickerdoodle is good afternoon snacking fare, these are racier–more apt for late night kitchen forays. Now snickerdoodles are tough to muck up. So I hope you decide to give these a try, and I hope my old editor isn’t reading the blog. It’s a very, very safe bet she’s not. I’m willing to bet this stolen cookbook on it.
While this was an excellent recipe just the way it was, I did adapt it slightly using just a dash less cardamom. I like the subtle warmth the spice brings to the cookies, but I found 1 1/2 tsp. sufficiently conveyed that. I also used ground cardamom instead of grinding my own like Niall suggests. She raises an important point that spices lose their freshness quickly, but I had just purchased the cardamom and it was used so sparingly that I’m happy with the results. If you’d like to use fresh cardamom, grind the seeds from 20 cardamom pods in an electric spice grinder, mini food processor, or mortar/pestle and use immediately.
Slightly adapted from: Sweet!
For Spiced Sugar:
Position oven racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt (This is important, to completely combine the cream of tarter and baking soda, and to break up any clumps). Beat the butter and sugar in a medium-size bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until the mixture is light in color and texture, about 3 minutes. One at a time, beat in the eggs, then the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low. In four equal additions, add the flour mixture, beating the dough until it’s smooth after each addition.
To make the spiced sugar, combine the ground cardamom, sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Using a level tablespoon of dough for each cookie, roll the dough into walnut-size balls. A few at a time, toss the balls in the spiced sugar to coat, and place about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Sprinkle the tops of each cookie with a bit of the spiced sugar.
Bake until the edges of the cookies are crisp and lightly browned, but the centers are still a bit soft, 8-10 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheet halfway through baking. Cool on the sheets for a few minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.