Sunset Magazine

leslie_sunset

Sunset Magazine is featuring my kitchen in the October issue. Truth be told, the article is sweet to include me, but the true focus is my all-time favorite cabinets. Kerf Design, located in the Interbay neighborhood of Seattle, built them. The owner and designer, Nathan Hartman, is a sweet, quiet man with a remarkable, creative aesthetic. He designed the cabinets for my kitchen with function in mind, aiming for a sleek, modern look. The cabinets are constructed of one-inch maple laminate plywood. To brighten them up and add a sense of playfulness we added colorful laminate inserts. The farm-style open shelves work well for me. I appreciate being able to see where everything is and it forces me to be clean, like working in an open kitchen. I don’t think the cabinets could be more beautiful. Surprisingly they are far from the most expensive in their league. Initially, I worried about how they would hold up. I’ve seen plenty of home kitchens that look spectacular but don’t look like they were designed to get a lot of use. I knew mine would, and it has. The cabinets have held up beautifully. The magazine is on newsstands now, or you can check out the article here.

Leslie

 

Party Bites: Create a Crostini Bar

Crostini

A build-your-own-Crostini bar is a fun way to serve up some sweet and savory bites at your next party. You don’t need a lot of time or creative flair to put together a Crostini station that your guests will relish. Simply team up a bag or two of our delicious Crostini with a mix of seasonal toppings. The possibilities are endless, but here are our suggestions for how to wow your crowd:

  • Fill a basket with your favorite Crostini. We have a variety of flavors, but our Wheat Herb Walnut Crostini is both flavorful and versatile.
  • Top a tray with a sampling of cheeses, like triple cream, aged cheddar and goat cheese.
  • Provide a variety of tasty additions, like sliced apples, local honey, fruit preserves and Marcona almonds.
  • Add in a couple of dishes of your favorite spreads. Our Roasted Artichoke Spread and Fig & Olive Tapenade are both crowd pleasers.

12 Days of Cookies: Day 2, Quick & Easy Cookie Icing

Royal Icing

Decorating sugar cookies can be a fun way to wile away a chilly afternoon with friends. Don’t despair if your little cookie canvasses aren’t perfect works of art. With a little practice, you’ll be icing cookies like our pastry chefs. In the meantime, rest assured that these cookies taste delicious no matter what – especially if you followed our tips for baking the perfect batch!

Quick & Easy Cookie Icing
Click here to print this recipe!

Ingredients

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon filtered water
Food coloring

Makes enough icing to decorated 6 to 8 six-inch cookies

1. Place powdered sugar in a medium bowl and add water. *Stir to combine until the mixture is smooth and all the sugar is dissolved. Add just a couple of drops of food coloring and mix well. You can always add more food coloring until the desired color is reached. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 1 day.

2. Repeat the steps above to create more colors.

3. Fit your pastry bags with the desired piping tips. A fine tip is perfect for drawing detailed decorations and making outlines. A wider tip can be used to fill in spaces. Using a rubber spatula, fill each bag with a different frosting color. Gather the frosting near the tip so no air will escape the tip as you are decorating. When icing the cookies, make sure the piping tip is not touching the cookie, but rather hovering over the cookie. One way to cover the whole cookie with a glaze of icing is by putting on a latex glove, dipping your finger into the icing and painting the cookie with your finger.

4. While the icing is wet, add embellishments to the cookie by topping with colored sprinkles or crystal sugar. Once the icing has set, gently tap the cookie to get rid of extra sprinkles and sugar.

5. After all the cookies have been decorated, let them sit for 2 hours at room temperature, so the frosting can set.

*If your icing is too thick, stir in more water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached; if too thin, continue stirring, or mix in more powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.

12 Days of Cookies: Day 1, Our Best Baking Tips

Baking cookies is usually our first foray into cooking, and it remains one of the most pleasurable cooking experiences throughout our lives. The simple act of combining a few ingredients to make a big batch of sweets is a great way to spread some holiday cheer. To make sure your cookies are baked to perfection, we rounded up a few simple guidelines.

Creaming Butter

Cream the butter. If a cookie recipe calls for butter and sugar, it’s important to mix, or cream, the two together. Use a stand mixer to cream the ingredients with the paddle attachment for about five minutes. Start out on low speed for the first minute or so, and then increase the speed to medium. This process aerates the butter, creating a light color and creamy texture, and ultimately gives the cookies more height.

Eggs

Pay attention to the eggs. As with all perishable ingredients, always use the freshest, highest quality eggs you can find. Add eggs to the cookie dough one at a time, making sure each egg is completely incorporated into the batter before adding another. We recommend scraping the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl frequently with a rubber spatula to make sure every bit of the egg is mixed into the dough.

Cookie Ingredients

Fold in the dry ingredients. Rather than separately adding dry ingredients such as flour, baking soda, and salt to cookie dough, combine them in one bowl and mix well with a whisk, so that they will be evenly distributed throughout the cookies. Then, when the instructions call for it, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a rubber spatula. Add small amounts at a time, folding in each batch until all of the flour has been absorbed into the dough. Folding the dough helps avoid over-mixing, which could result in tough cookies.

Cookie Ingredients

Chill the dough. It’s tempting to form and bake your cookies as soon as you make the dough – waiting can be agony when there are hungry people around – but chilling the finished dough for one hour in the refrigerator will ensure thicker, chewier cookies. If the butter inside the dough is not chilled before baking, it will melt quickly when placed in the oven, resulting in flat cookies that burn around the edges but stay raw in the middle. It’s worth waiting an hour to make the best cookie possible.

There really is nothing better than warm, freshly baked cookies. We hope your holiday season is filled with lots of delicious treats now that you’re armed with our best baking tips!

Find more baking tips like these as well as wonderful cookie recipes in our latest cookbook, More from Macrina.

Holidays 101: Easy Party Appetizers

Amuse-bouches, hors d’oeuvres & appetizers, oh my! You don’t need a lot of time or creative flare to pull together an elegant spread of party-worthy bites. Take a look at our favorite ways to kick off the festivities without breaking a sweat.

Grissini

Grissini Appetizer

You often find these crisp Italian breadsticks dressing up the tables in restaurants across Italy, but here Grissini gets a lot of curious looks for its long shape. Rolled with fennel, green olives and olive oil, our Grissini has wonderful flavor on its own, but we love to wrap it with thinly sliced prosciutto just like they do in Italy.

Sardinian Flatbread

Sardinian Flatbread Appetizer

The Seeded Sardinian Flatbread is the newest addition to our flatbread selection. Each piece is adorned with toasted sesame, poppy and fennel seeds, adding extra color, texture and flavor to your holiday table. Top with a savory jam and favorite cheese, serve with charcuterie or break them apart and dip in one of our housemade spreads.

Crostini

Cranberry Apricot Nut Crostini Appetizer

Like the Sardinian Flatbread, our Crostini is a delicious blank slate. We have Crostini available in different flavors, but this time of year we reach for our Cranberry Apricot Nut Crostini. Mingling the flavors of dried fruit, toasted nuts and a hint of clove, this Crostini is a nice balance of sweet and savory. Pair it with our Potted Cheese or top with creamy fromage blanc and a drizzle of honey for a perfect party appetizer.

Francese Crostini

Pane Francese Appetizer

For those who don’t mind spending a little extra time in the kitchen, you can whip up a full-flavor Francese Crostini in a snap! Simply toast a sliced loaf of Pane Francese, spread it with our Fig & Olive Tapenade and then top it all off with some toasted pine nuts for a crowd-pleasing snack everyone will think you spent hours on.

Flour 101: How to Work with Wet Dough

Want to make a ciabatta or baguette? You’re going to have to get your hands doughy. Working with wet dough takes practice and patience…and a little extra flour on your fingertips. This sticky stuff, if treated right, creates a golden-brown crust and cream colored crumb. But overwork it and your loaf will come out less than stellar. That’s because kneading and handling wet dough too much overdevelops the gluten (the part that gives your loaf shape and texture).

To produce the most beautiful, freshly baked loaf, knead wet dough gently in the beginning and then do what we breadheads call a “baker’s turn.”

Step 1: Flour your hands well to prevent sticking to the dough. Keeping the dough in a bowl, use your fingertips to release the edges of the dough from the bowl.

Working with Wet Dough

Step 2: Pull and stretch the right side of the dough outward, extending the dough past the rim of the bowl about six inches. Bring the stretched dough back to the center of the bowl and lay it on top of the dough ball.

Working with Wet Dough

Step 3: Repeat Step 2 with the left side as well as top and bottom portions of the dough, bringing the stretched dough back to the center each time.

Working with Wet Dough

Step 4: Flip the dough ball over, placing it seam side down in the bowl.

Working with Wet Dough

Now you’re ready to proceed according to your recipe’s instructions. Some recipes require several rounds of bakers turns after each resting period. This helps develop the gluten and give your loaf shape.

Check back next week when we’ll be making our One-Day Artisan Whole Grain Loaf using flour mentioned in our previous Flour 101 blog post and preparing our wet dough with using the baker’s turn technique.

Tip & Tricks: Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Squash Harvest Loaf

Our delicious Squash Harvest Bread topped with toasted pumpkin seeds and walnuts.

Pumpkins abound this time of year! Carved or whole, they are everyone’s favorite decorative squash. We like to use them for more than just adorning the doorstep. Each year as we’re carving up our jack-o’-lanterns, we set aside the seeds for toasting.

Loaded with zinc, iron, magnesium and heart-healthy fat, pumpkin seeds are a nutritional powerhouse. Add them to salads for a hearty crunch, toss into granola or trail mix, and use them to dress up homemade breads and pastries.

Tips for Perfectly Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

  • Rinse seeds well to remove any pumpkin pulp and pat dry with a paper towel before toasting.
  • Toss with a small amount of oil and a pinch of your favorite spices. For savory pumpkin seeds, try kosher salt, cumin and coriander, or Leslie’s favorite, kosher salt and ground chipotle chile pepper. For sweeter seeds, try cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg or ginger.
  • Spread seeds in an even layer on a heavy-duty baking sheet.
  • Preheat oven and bake at 300°F on the center rack until they are golden and fragrant, shaking and rotating the pan a few times throughout the baking process for even coloring.
  • Seeds can take up to 10 minutes to toast, but check them often and use your nose to alert you when they’re getting close.
  • An alternative to baking is toasting seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan and tossing the seeds often to keep them from burning.
  • If you don’t eat them right away, store pumpkin seeds in an airtight container.

Tips for Baking Perfect Cookies

Our chilly autumn days easily lend themselves to holing up indoors. To keep from going stir crazy, we turn to baking – naturally. There is nothing more comforting than biting into a warm, freshly baked cookie. Between rainy weekends, school bake sales, and those swiftly-approaching holidays, we thought you might enjoy our best cookie baking tips.

fall_frosted_cookies_leaves_cropped

Tip #1  Most cookie recipes call for room temperature butter, but in the excitement of diving into a recipe it’s easy to forget to take the butter out of the fridge ahead of time. For those moments, simply slice the butter into smaller pieces, layer evenly on a plate, and leave it on the counter until it gives with the press of a finger – about half an hour.

Tip #2  The best cookie sheets are the heavy-gauge, stainless steel variety. Dark-colored cookie sheets may cause your cookies to over-brown on the bottom.

Tip #3  Baking cookies one sheet at a time is generally recommend for thorough cooking, but that’s also time intensive. If you’re baking more than one sheet at a time, rotate them from front to back and top to bottom halfway through the cooking time.

Tip #4  Cold dough is best for making sugar cookie cut outs. If your dough warmed up with handling, cover it in plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge until it’s well-chilled – about two hours. Once you’re ready to work with it, keep any unused portion refrigerated until it’s needed. On that note, cookie dough should be slightly cool before it goes into the oven, since warm cookie dough spreads excessively as it bakes.

Tip #5  We like using a small, spring-loaded ice cream scoop to portion out cookie dough. This keeps the cookies a nice, uniform size and helps them bake evenly.

Tip #6  Avoid cooling your cookies directly on the cookie sheet, as this causes them to overcook. Instead, gently place them on a cooling rack once you’ve pulled them from the oven.

Now that you’re ready to bake up the perfect batch, pick up More from Macrina for Leslie’s favorite cookie recipes!