Thursday, May 29, 2014


As I’ve mentioned before, I have nostalgic feelings about sugar cookies. Most of my childhood memories involve the flat, crisp-chewy style with thin, glaze-like icing. I could never resist these in a bakery window, especially when they came in unusual shapes with elaborate decoration, like the faces of Sesame Street characters (bonus points for garish blue or green that stained my tongue); my particular favorite was the “cookie on a stick” I would always choose as my treat for behaving myself when my mom dragged out shopping at the mall. But later in life, mostly thanks to office holiday celebrations, I fell hard for the polar-opposite sugar cookie model, the fluffy, impossibly soft, buttercream-frosted ones found in grocery store bakery sections. Why do I find them so irresistible? It’s that pillowy cakelike texture, even when it verges on being too floury (and no doubt artificial-preservative-laden). I always felt a little gross after finishing one, but the first bite was sheer heaven.

So when a recipe popped up at Annie’s Eats that promised to replicate the super-soft sugar-cookie experience, I had to give it a try. These cookies really do feed that craving, satisfyingly thick and tender but without the dense, doughy, chalky quality the storebought ones can have. And the flavor is infinitely better, buttery and intensely vanilla-spiked.

My one stumble has been with the frosting, which has turned out smooth and glaze-like instead of thick and creamy both times I’ve made these. The first time (pink, for Valentine’s Day 2013; yes, I’ve been holding out on you that long) the finished cookies were so homely (er, “rustic”) that I didn’t even want to photograph them, but as soon as I realized how addictively delicious they are, I knew I’d have to try again so I could post them. I figured I had put too much milk in the frosting and tried to dial it back on the second attempt, but got the same result (this time in robin’s-egg blue, in honor of spring). The frosting is delicious and I have no desire to change it, but you’ll see that mine didn’t resemble Annie’s original picture or the store version.

It’s strange to say because I always consider myself a chocolate-chip fan, but these might be some of my favorite cookies ever. It’s kind of a problem how good they are. If you’re a soft sugar-cookie fan, try this recipe.

4½ cups all-purpose flour
4½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoons salt
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
3 large eggs
5 teaspoons vanilla extract

5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
7-8 tablespoons milk
Food coloring (optional)
Sprinkles (optional)
  1. To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and whisk together to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Cover and chill the dough for 1 hour.
  2. When you are ready to bake the cookies, scoop a scant quarter-cup of dough and roll into a ball. Flatten the ball slightly and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until set. (Do not overbake! The edges should be no more than very lightly browned, if at all.) Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. To frost the cookies, place the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk to the bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. Tint with food coloring if desired. Use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies. (If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to keep it workable.) Top with sprinkles if desired.
Yields: About 2 dozen large cookies
Time: 2 hours
Leftover potential: Great. I store mine in an airtight container in the freezer and they keep for weeks. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014


This recipe, also from Budget Bytes, is the perfect side dish to accompany baked egg rolls in your DIY Chinese-takeout-themed meal. It’s easy, fast, and light yet nourishing…and making egg ribbons is fun. I had much more success with these than with my previous attempts in Italian wedding soup, probably because this broth is thickened slightly with cornstarch to help suspend them, or maybe just because Budget Bytes did such a good job explaining how to create a swirling vortex and drizzle them in.

The first time I made this, I figured I might as well use the whole 8-ounce package of mushrooms (the original recipe only calls for 4 ounces), but I felt that the finished soup was a bit too mushroom-heavy, so the second time I split the difference at 6 ounces. The first time I used spinach as my greens and the second time baby bok choi. The recipe’s flexible, is what I’m saying. The overall flavor is delicate, and I’m not a Sriracha fantatic, but I highly recommend stirring at least a few drops into each serving; you won’t be able to taste it exactly, but it adds just the right zip of acidity and spice to keep the soup from verging on blandness.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced
4-6 ounces fresh button mushrooms, sliced
3-4 green onions, sliced
8 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 large eggs
2 cups fresh baby spinach or shredded baby bok choi leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Sriracha to taste (optional)

1. Heat the vegetable oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Ad the ginger, mushrooms, and green onions and sauté until slightly softened (5 minutes).

2. Add chicken broth and soy sauce. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a rolling boil.

3. While waiting for the soup to boil, place the cornstarch in a small bowl and add just enough water to dissolve it (about 2 tablespoons); stir together until smooth. When the soup reaches a boil, stir in the cornstarch slurry.

4. Whisk the eggs in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of water. Turn the heat off and wait for the soup to stop boiling (one minute or less; if you have an electric stove you may want to move it off the burner). Using a large spoon, swirl the soup in the pot in a circular motion. Once it’s all moving consistently in the same direction, slowly drizzle in the whisked eggs. (If you want thicker egg threads, swirl a little slower and/or pour a little faster.) Do not stir the soup for at least one minute while the eggs set. Allow the swirling current to slow to a stop on its own.

5. Once the egg threads are set, stir in the spinach or bok choi and allow to wilt, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Sriracha (I like about 5-6 drops per serving).

Serves: 6
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good. Not sure it will freeze well, but it keeps for a week in the fridge.

Thursday, May 08, 2014


Egg rolls are one of A’s favorite foods (after tacos), but I never considered making them at home because I’m afraid of deep-frying. It didn’t occur to me that egg rolls could be baked until I saw this recipe at Budget Bytes. I did think egg rolls that weren’t fried and didn’t contain meat might be a bridge too far for A, so following a lead in the comments, I swapped out the veggie filling for one that included pork. This took a little manipulating, since the pork version was intended for potstickers and was thus uncooked, so I ended up making a mashup of the two different recipes. Unfortunately, I didn’t take good notes, and enough time elapsed before I made these again that I didn’t remember what I’d done before and had to figure it out all over again. Luckily, the filling is forgiving.

You should know that I’m cabbage-averse, although I’m slowly warming to the stuff. I was a little put off by the thought of using a whole head, so the first time around I just bought a bag of pre-shredded cabbage from Trader Joe’s. That’s probably why I only ended up with enough filling to stuff 12 of my 20 egg roll wrappers, although this didn’t occur to me at the time. On my second attempt I increased the pork to ¾ pound, upped the carrot and green onions, and used a whole head of cabbage. (Luckily, Budget Bytes has helpful slicing instructions with photos, since I hadn’t tried to take on a head of cabbage since my CSA gave me one in 2007.) It turns out there’s a lot more cabbage in a head than in a bag! I filled 20 egg roll wrappers generously and still had a little filling left over. So maybe I should have stuck with just ½ pound pork? (A would say no.) In both iterations, the filling tasted great, which is the important thing. I even liked the cabbage.

Are baked egg rolls the same as fried ones? They aren’t going to fool anyone into thinking they’re takeout; the texture is crunchier, chewier, a bit drier (definitely have your favorite dipping sauce on hand; I love Trader Joe’s gyoza sauce, which is basically soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil with some seasonings, but sweet chili sauce or spicy mustard are also good options). I actually think I might prefer the baked version, though. Four or five plus a side dish (see my next post for that) adds up to a reasonable meal with a decent serving of fresh veggies that doesn’t feel too heavy, and they even make passable leftovers. (I think if you reheated them in the oven or toaster oven they’d regain their crispness and be near-new again, but even zapped in the microwave and thus a bit softer, they were just as tasty.)

These may be a bit more complicated than tacos, but they still weren’t too hard for a weeknight and will definitely be a regular menu feature.

½-¾ pound ground pork
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-inch segment fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 green onions, sliced
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 small head green cabbage, cored and thinly shredded
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 package of 20 egg roll wrappers
Nonstick spray (or additional vegetable oil)

1. Heat a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add the pork and brown, breaking up with a spoon, until cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper-towel lined plate, leaving the skillet on the burner.

2. Add 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil to the skillet. Add the green onion, garlic, and ginger and sauté until slightly softened (1-2 minutes). Add the carrot, sauté for one minute more, and then add the cabbage and ½ teaspoon salt. Continue to cook and stir until the cabbage has reduced in volume by half.

3. Return the pork to the skillet, then add the soy sauce and cook until slightly thickened. Drizzle the sesame oil on top and stir in. Turn the heat off and add a few grindings of pepper. Give the mixture a taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Let the mixture cool slightly.

4. Begin to fill and roll the egg rolls. Place one wrapper at a time on a clean surface and place about ¼-1/3 cup of the pork mixture just off center, close to one of the corners on the square. Roll the corner up and over the filling, fold each side in, and then roll the rest of the way up. Keep a small bowl of water near by and use it as “glue” to hold the corners of the egg roll wrapper in place.

5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by covering with foil. Place the egg rolls on the baking sheet and coat with nonstick spray or brush with vegetable oil. Roll them over and spray/brush the other side with oil. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Turn the egg rolls over halfway through cooking and rotate your baking sheet if you have hot spots in your oven.

Serves: 4-5 as a main dish, more as an appetizer
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Surprisingly OK. Reheat in the oven or toaster oven for best results, but microwave is fine if you don’t mind a softer texture. You can also freeze the unbaked egg rolls and just pop them into the oven without thawing, although the texture may not be as good as with the freshly made ones.