Speculaas Cookies

This will make me sound like an unabashed nerd, but a well designed grocery store is my happy place. I love turning the corners around aisles to discover unexpected treasures on the end caps.  Encountering baby vegetables of any variety can turn my day around like that Dead or Alive song.

While at Trader Joe’s the other day, picking up some fancy cheese for a Sunday dinner, I impulsively picked up a box of those deliciously addictive Speculoos cookies.  I’d had them before, but in the course of my daily life of writing books and waiting tables, I had forgotten about these gingery, crispy delights.

The Gent and I proceeded to devour the box within 48 hours.

We needed more. So many more. In a cookie-craving frenzy, I pawed through my pantry and uncovered cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, molasses…. I had eggs, and butter, and flour, even Almond Meal.  Then I was called off work last night and the evening unrolled before me like a blank canvas waiting to be filled.

It was cookie kismet. Continue reading

Whoopie!

Pumpkin Whoopie Kiss

Pumpkin Whoopie Kiss

As I found myself puttering around the kitchen on Halloween, I had two words that kept popping into my brain….. Whoopie Pie.

As delicious as they are, though, whoopie pies can be a bit messy. And sometimes I just want a little whoopie, you know what I mean?

So I made ’em tiny. You can’t really call this a pie– because it’s so petite. So I’m calling these Whoopie Kisses. Not only because it’s appropriate, but it’s incredibly fun to say.

Try it.

Whoo-oopie Kisses.

whoopie kisses
check out the spices.... mmmm

Pumpkin Whoopie Kisses

  • For the Cream-Cheese Filling

    • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
    • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
    • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
    • 1 tbs cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • For the Whoopie (!)

    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
    • 1 tablespoon ground cloves
    • 2 cups firmly packed dark-brown sugar
    • 1 cup vegetable oil
    • 3 cups pumpkin puree, chilled
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

Pumpkin Whoopie Kisses
Ready for their close up
  1. Make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves; set aside. In another large bowl, whisk together brown sugar and oil until well combined. Add pumpkin puree and whisk until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and whisk until well combined. Sprinkle flour mixture over pumpkin mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.
  3. Tranfer batter to a pastry bag and pipe quarter-sized circles of dough onto prepared baking sheets, about a half inch apart. Transfer to oven and bake until cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cookie comes out clean, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely on pan.
  4. Make the filling: Sift confectioner’ sugar into a medium bowl; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth. Add cream cheese and beat until well combined. Add confectioners’ sugar,  vanilla, and cinnamon, beat just until smooth.
  5. Assemble the whoopie pies: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Transfer filling to a disposable pastry bag and snip the end. When cookies have cooled completely, pipe a large dollop of filling on the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies, pressing down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edge of the cookies. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate cookies at least 30 minutes before serving and up to 3 days.

The Overstuffed Thanksgiving Post…(part 1…)

From the blustery, gold-leafed Northeast to the sun-kissed coast of  California, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. As the tell-tale gobbling draws closer, even the best of us question why we ever agreed to host Thanksgiving Dinner in the first place.
The in-laws are coming in to town with Everest-level expectations, you are frantically googling “foolproof ways to cook a turkey” and coming up with 27,698 conflicting schools of “Roast!” “Smoke!” “Deep Fry!” “Brine!” “DON’T BRINE!” “High heat!” “Low and Slooow,” as well as the contrarian Millennial Generation belief—“Turkey is played out, Bring on the Korean short ribs and cardamom-infused seitan roll.”
Hospitality at home does not require that the host herself lose twelve pounds through sleep deprivation and midnight cooking binges. The best hosts are always the ones that know their limitations and can present themselves with grace by the time their guests arrive, regardless of personal taste and style.
Consummate hosts come in many flavors, but I make a distinction between four major types:
Domestic Engineers (traditionalists, a la Martha Stewart, or Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina)
            Glamazons (a la Samantha Jones, or Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly)
Decadent Bohemians (eclectic, vivid people like Carrie Bradshaw, Audrey in Funny Face)
Conscientious Objectors (those who refuse to conform to expectations, like Annie Hall, Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday)
Anyone who has read my first post knows that I recommend getting professional help. Here in Los Angeles, there are a couple of ways to stage such an intervention.
Order in:
I like to get the turkey out of the way by picking up a cooked one the day before, so I can focus on the fun stuff like pies, side dishes, and signature cocktails.
No one has to know that you had help, but, personally, I don’t think there’s any shame in letting the cat out of the bag. …Or the turkey, as the case may be.
Ordering a few things in enables you to easily be pulling the Apple Pie out of the oven, or pouring Maple Manhattans as your guests walk in the door… Because nothing says “Happy Holidays” like the sound of ice in a shaker….
Suggestions for ordering in, by type:
Domestic Engineers: Turkey from Joan’s on Third  or Bristol Farms . Add your own maple baked sweet potatoes (from your great-grandmother’s recipe), Aunt Tilda’s pumpkin pie, and Parker House Rolls.
Glamazons: the full menu from Joan’s, Bristol Farms, or Street.
Decadent Bohemians: Turkey from Little Dom’s Deli or Street, and at least 2 servings of Street’s Vegan Jackfruit, or M Café de Chaya’s Savory Sliced Seitan, because there’s definitely going to be some vegetarians at your place. Cook up some Farmers’ Market brussels sprouts in bacon from McCall’s, and a Momofuku Crackpie  for dessert, and you’re set.
Conscientious Objectors: There is nothing wrong with ordering a pizza if that says Celebration to you. If your issue is just that you hate turkey, but are feeling otherwise fancy, pick up the Lobster or Lamb Roast from Street and finish everything off with a killer Sundae bar.
In the event that eating-in is not on the table; either because your guests won’t fit in your Lilliputian apartment, Medieval Parking restrictions on your block, you don’t feel like cooking (and the mountain of dishes that result), or the equation
your white sofa + booze +your friends= disaster….
Make Reservations:
No matter what city you are in over the holidays, here’s a tip: Hotel Restaurants.
At least one restaurant in a hotel must be open 365 days a year to serve the guests, regardless of holiday observation (visiting European businessmen don’t care about Thanksgiving, anymore than Americans understand all those British “Bank Holidays” when we’re on the other side of the pond). For Holly Golightly’s whose manicures never touch dishwater, this is perfect.
Imagine you, tippling a glass of wine as sparkling as your conversation, in a tufted booth, wearing a chic black one-shoulder dress, while servers drop delicacies at your table. The photos on your FaceBook page will be enviable.
It is definitely best to make a reservation a couple of weeks in advance, but should you need a last minute table for 8—because somebody burned the turkey—don’t be disheartened. Call ahead, tell the hostess your hardship, and that you’ll happily wait at the bar until something opens up. I guarantee you, you’ll eventually be taken care of; it’s the holidays, after all.
Note also, that a little tip for the hostess after your meal is not inappropriate here, if she really helped you out. A pre-emptive $20 handshake in an attempt to jump ahead of reservations is tacky, though, and could get her in trouble if she accepts it. Nobody wants that.
If you are doing the inviting, be clear with your guests about who is settling the bill. Unless you specify otherwise in advance, the rules of etiquette dictate that the host picks up the check.
Recommendations by type:
For Domestic Engineers: (obviously, only in case of emergency) Gordon Ramsay at the London, as well as Jar in West Hollywood & Tavern in Brentwood will be featuring traditional dishes from turkey to the pumpkin pie finale.  So Jar and Tavern aren’t in hotels… but they’re open and traditional.
Glamazons: Scarpetta @ the Montage Beverly Hills and The Bazaar @ the SLS Beverly Hills are both delicious, with plenty of social cache. The Bazaar is planning to feature an a la carte menu, while chef Conant at Scarpetta has put together an incredible four-course pre-fixe at $85 per person.
Decadent Bohemians: Simon LA at the Sofitel will be serving up a rock n’ roll take on traditional Turkey Day fare.
Conscientious Objectors: high-end? Delphine’s at the W Hollywood. The full menu will be available, so no need to be trapped by the dreaded flavors of the season. On the less fussy end? Dillon’s Irish Pub, right across the street, will have the game on and Mac and Cheese Kobe burgers at the ready.

Hospitality @ Home: When a Turkey Runs You Over…

When I think about hospitality, what it is, what it requires, I think about holiday dinners at my parents’ house. It seems, obvious, I know, to wax nostalgic about Midwestern childhood dishes and their inevitable companions (ice! Fireplaces! Piles of leaves and hot apple cider!), but this is not one of those posts.
My parents always hosted the extended family Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners in Oklahoma. As soon as you can hold a spoon, you’re old enough to contribute, whether constructing the relish tray, or mashing the potatoes while the Macy’s parade trundles through its menagerie of marching bands and Snoopy balloons.
After I went away to college in Central New York, it made more sense for me to spend Thanksgiving with family on the East coast, and as the holiday drew close during my freshman year, I fielded many phone calls from my father. His voice raised to a nervous octave when considering the many ways a turkey could go wrong; cooked to sawdust, undercooked and marinating on the table like a salmonella time bomb. I suggested that he “leave it to the professionals” and order the turkey from a local restaurant.
Little did I know, then, that I was creating the truck– well, turkey– that would run me over…
It began with ordering just the Turkey from Ingrid’s Kitchen (www.ingridskitchen.com) at Thanksgiving. By the time I arrived for Christmas break, we were outsourcing the turkey, the gravy (it’s only natural that bird and gravy should come from the same place), the mashed potatoes, and two pies (because where can you find a good mincemeat pie anymore?).
There is certainly an air of camaraderie, milling around Ingrid’s wooden tabled dining room, steaming up the windows with other celebrants in the early morning hours of November 25th.  By now, my father has been doing this for 10 years, so the woman behind the counter smiles and adds “I saved the best mincemeat pie for you!”, because she knows it is his favorite.
Tucking this bounty in the backseat of my father’s Chrysler, though, feels slightly… off. I should be relieved that the brunt of the cooking can be checked off the list, but I can’t shake the idea that something has been lost.
I want to pull out the silver serving ware from it’s buttery wooden chest, to select one of the Good China sets that have permanent residency in the china press in the dining room, shake out the tablecloths, polish the crystal stemware, set my sister to working out an elegant napkin fold… All this while the turkey roasts low and slow, and the cranberries burble and pop on the gas range.
In it’s truest form, that is hospitality. It allows us to be our best self; the self who foraged for the sweetest smelling Gala apples, who discovered This Perfectly Curved Glass to bring out the bouquet of the wine, measured the time and the flour, the self who passed over myriad other options to present to her guests the Best Things. Seeing someone else delight in those things—the plate simply arranged, the filigree of baby birds in the china pattern, the faint scent of cinnamon lingering in the air after the pie comes out of the oven—is intoxicating. Hospitality is knowing what is good and making a meal out of others’ enjoyment, whether it is a holiday dinner, or another night of service at the restaurant.
So, in this blog, I endeavor to unpack all those elements of hospitality from discovering the best food, wine, and venues to share with others, to being a great hostess, a good guest, and all around Enjoyer of Things.
Working in restaurants over the past five years, I have become one of the “professionals,” I advised my father to seek assistance from.  To my friends in Los Angeles I am a considerable cook and hostess, but as is the struggle of one’s 20’s, my credentials are revoked once I am back home.
The holidays are mere weeks away, and I will be going back home, where my father will order the turkey from Ingrid’s, and probably a pie or two. So I’ll just have to find some other inspirational item to go alongside… something like slow roasted ribs and the perfect bottle of wine…