Austrian Shortbread Recipe

Every year, my older sister has us over during the holidays for a massive baking day. We usually begin after lunch time and then bake and eat cookies at least through dinner. It’s the kind of day that I look back on fondly and warmly. I remember laughing with my sisters and frosting treats together. It would be ripe for a movie montage… us, laughing in aprons and getting flour all over our adorable faces and laughing like Liz Lemon laughing like Julia Roberts.

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However, when I’m actually in the day, I usually look like crap (in fact, last year, I scrambled because my roof started leaking that morning) and, by the end of the day, I’m hungry like the wolf for some celery because I’ve eaten a should-be-illegal amount of sugar and butter. Knowing there would probably be strangers present and potentially pictures being taken, I decided to eliminate any cookie stress and focus instead on trimming my bangs so that I looked decent.

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What’s my least favorite, most stressful baking task? Rolling things out with a rolling pin. Usually, when you’re using a rolling pin, your dough is frozen, or at least super-cold. And that basically the dumbest idea ever. Here, roll out this frozen disk of butter and flour– oh, and keep it cold or else you’re a failure and nothing will taste good. This year, I was going to avoid rolling out any dough, so help me God! Oh, and I wasn’t going to go grocery shopping. Zen.

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So, I thought shortbread. Shortbread is so simple and so good. You really only need a couple ingredients, which I believed I had. No, I didn’t actually check. More on that later. After a minute or two of Googling, I came across a few recipes for Austrian shortbread. The recipes all used this technique I’d heard about for pie crusts; instead of rolling out your dough, you grate it with a cheese grater! With a pie plate, you then press the dough in. With the Asutrian shortbread, you don’t even have to do that part. We had a winner!

15846809579_48bb8bb256_zI ended up following this recipe most closely. But not exactly because I wasn’t going to the store, and it turned out I didn’t have enough sugar. I used 1 cup of sugar, and about 1/3 cup brown sugar instead of the 2 cups white sugar. That worked totally fine (actually, I couldn’t imagine being that much sweeter!). Also, I forgot that I had no confectioner’s sugar, so I dusted the top with hot cocoa mix. I’m laughing out loud to myself, because that sounds so silly and lazy, but these cookies were delightful. And when I arrived at the cookie swap, all I had to do was cut them into squares and then drink wine– and eat celery! Life is good.

What to do with all of the kimchi.

I’ve been slacking when it comes to blogging, but I have a list of fantastic excuses. For example, Dan and I adopted a puppy a few weeks ago. When you’re waking up at 5AM to walk the dog, and training that baby animal to control his bladder, you care much, much less about taking photos of your dinner. Also, I’ve been traveling for the holidays and sitting back while family members cook for me, so my dutch oven has gotten a well-deserved rest.

But now it’s time to get back into the swing of things. Perhaps I can even write about the challenges of cooking in a tiny NYC kitchen while a four-month-old lab weaves in and out of my legs.

One of the other, joyful challenges of this time of year is using up all of the foods Dan brings back from his trips to visit the ‘rents. Like any beloved, adult son, he comes home from visiting mom and dad with bags upon bags of groceries. I am grateful to be the beneficiary of his mom’s epic Costco trips– we have enough frozen dumplings, spanikopita and chicken fingers to get us through winter’s coldest, darkest nights. These grocery hauls, however, also mean lots of kimchi.

You might be saying to yourself, “kimchi is delicious! There’s no such thing as too much homemade kimchi, you ingrate!” In theory, I agree with you completely! But in reality I’m sitting on about five gallons of kimchi (I’m not exaggerating; I’ll tweet a photo tonight to prove it!) and I don’t know what to do no more! It just keeps coming and we can’t eat it fast enough. We’ve made kimchi fried rice, we’ve put it into soup, we’ve accompanied every meal with a bowl of kimchi– from bulgogi to grilled cheese to, well, spanikopita– and it feels like we’ve barely made a dent.

So, really, I’m writing this as a plea for ideas. What’s your favorite way to eat kimchi? Are there ways to use kimchi without having to eat it at every meal; a kimchi bath, perhaps? Do you want to come over and eat some kimchi?

Russ & Daughters Cafe

Matzo Ball Soup Russ and Daughters

Sometimes I daydream about what it would be like to live somewhere else. The West Coast could be nice. I love the idea of foggy, sixty degree days year-round in a city like Seattle or San Francisco. Or what if I lived abroad? Sweden, perhaps, where the schools are great and everywhere looks like a cross between a fairy tale and an Ikea. (OK, might need to fact check that one, but I’m pretty confident I’m not that far-off.)

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Herring Toast Russ and Daughters

I want to be this kind of wandering, worldly person who can unpack themselves in a new place and feel invigorated by a new culture. Maybe to some extent I am, who knows. But deep, deep inside of me, probably in my colon, I imagine a bubbling pit that looks like the Earth’s core. In this place, the image I have of myself as a jet-setting Gwyneth Paltrow type gets incinerated by the volcanic magma of my true essence. My true essence is an irritated, demanding person who wonders, constantly, out-loud about why you can’t find a good bagel outside of New York. Also this person will put anybody who responds to this rhetorical question with, “it’s the water, hyuk-hyuk!” on her never-talk-to-again list.

Russ and Daughters Cafe Interior

This is all a weird, existential way of saying that my brunch at Russ & Daughters Cafe this weekend was life-affirming. I said that to Dan and he laughed at me. He knows that generally, I don’t like thinking too hard about things like brunch. But sometimes it happens. It presses up on me like a stranger on the 1 train, and it reminds me why, even if I find a couple of adventures to keep me busy, I’ll probably end up back in New York. Yes, you heard me; because of the bagels.

Blintzes at Russ and Daughters

We tried a bunch of things, all of which were the bomb.  The menu was perfect. Usually, I can rule out something because it’s got peas and I hate peas, or because I know won’t be great (like how you always only order a burger at a crappy diner; it’s the only safe option). Here, though, I wanted it all. We settled on matzo ball soup, latkes with applesauce, the “super heebster” (a bagel topped with whitefish and baked salmon salad), blintzes, and the pickled herring trio. You know that episode of Arrested Development when George Sr. is like, “I’m having a love affair with this ice cream sandwich”? That was me, eating this meal.

Latkes at Russ and Daughters

Blintzes at Russ and Daughters 2

Anyway, I hope you all go. The wait for brunch was close to an hour, but completely worth it. More restaurants should strive to find the nostalgia and reverence for old-school classics that you feel at Russ & Daughters Cafe. Waiters in white coats, a menu featuring caviar you can’t afford alongside an every man’s smoked fish sandwich, free coffee refills, and a candy with your check– it was perfect and captured exactly the New Yorkiness I’d miss if I was ever gone for long.

Beet Chips

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My dream is to one day be interviewed, in depth, on a podcast. It’s a simple and maybe a little pathetic aspiration, but I’m gleeful at the idea of someone asking me questions and then having to be interested in my answers because I’m some sort of successful genius. And if my dream ever comes true, and the host asks me, “Hillary, how do you do it? what is your secret?”

I promise you, my answer will be, “Well Sammy, you know what I always say– Just chip it!”

What I mean by that is that when I don’t feel like eating a vegetable that I know is good for me, I just make it crispy and salty and it’s always way more palatable. And I think that is sort of my motto for real life too. The haters will say it’s a childish way to live. My fans will delight in how optimistic and carefree and real I am.

Now, I’m not a baby who can’t stomach cauliflower, but I am an adult who is very turned off by beets. And I got a bunch of beets in my recent CSA, which was almost a nightmare, but then I sliced them real thin with my mandoline, roasted them in the oven and salted those puppies. They turned into warm, crispy and earthy delights that have a way more depth of flavor than your average Ruffle.

If the vegetable you hate is less spherical (great for slicing), and is more broccoli or Brussels sprouts-shaped, just remove the slicing part of the recipe and roast a little bit longer. I love this method for Brussels sprouts, but it takes about 30 minutes rather than a chippy 10. Pay attention and take your veggies out of the oven when the edges are brown with the promise of a crunch. Sprinkle liberally with salt while still warm and enjoy!

Beet Chips

3 – 4 beets (or golden beets, or turnips)
Olive oil
Salt

1. Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.

2. Slice your beets 1/4 of an inch think using a mandoline. Spread out your chips in a single layer on a cookie sheet (have a 1/4 sheet pan for your tiny oven like I do? You might need to bake these in a few batches!).

3. Sprinkle with olive oil and bake for ten minutes, or until edges are golden and crisp, about 10 minutes. Act quickly: sweet beets can quickly turn from browned to burned because of the high sugar content.

4. Remove from oven, place in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let cool slightly before eating– cooling will add more crunch!

Note: it took me a while to get these right without burning a few chips here and there. A safer, but less healthy route, if you’re having trouble, would be to do a simple stovetop deep fry, which is easier to keep an eye on!

October Essentials: Kitchen Tools

There are a lot of kitchen items that you know you need when you move into a new home. You buy yourself pots, pans, a spice rack, drinking glasses… but then there are also the items you put off; the items you see in other peoples’ kitchens, but you never buy for yourself because they seem frivolous, specific, or not necessary right now. For my mom, this item was (and is) nice dish towels. She loves good, absorbent, pretty dish towels, but she rarely buys them for herself. So, if me and my sisters are ever stumped for Mother’s Day gift ideas, we can always fall back on a set of dish towels, and they never disappoint.

In the past few years, I’ve acquired a few kitchen tools, all gifts, that I probably would have never bought for myself, but now that I have them, I use them constantly. If you see these items on sale at T.J. Maxx, snatch them up and watch your kitchen game instantly upgrade.

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My Le Creuset Dutch Oven
I received this item as a gift when I attended a press event a while back. Some gift, huh? Everyone knows Le Creuset Dutch Ovens are great, so it may seem a little more obvious than the others I’ll talk about, but I needed to include it simply because of the extent to which it transformed my cooking. If you have considered getting one, but keep putting it off because of the price point, I can relate. But I will say that since I’ve had mine, I use it to cook more meals than I don’t. It lives on my stove top, always ready for the next soup, stew, braise or sauce. Sturdy and reliable, it far out-performs its stainless steel stockpot counterpart.

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My Oxo Potato Ricer
About a year ago, on this very blog, I mentioned that I didn’t have a potato ricer. A few weeks later, my dear and considerate pal brought me one as a birthday gift and I’ve used it countless times since. I had no idea how often I was mashing potatoes, making gnocchi, smashing pie filling and pureeing other roasted veggies (cauliflower, yams). I’m not sure it’s the right fit for every home, but if you love a buttery mash like me, I can’t recommend it enough.

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My Swissmar Mandoline
Dan would always tell me about how his mom used a mandoline to thinly slice veggies and julienne carrots (a must for kimchi!). We didn’t have one in my house growing up, so it seemed extraneous to me. Then, he surprised me with one earlier this summer and I’ve been using it constantly! All season, I used it to thinly slice tomatoes for BLTs and shave summer squash for pan frying. Now that it’s oven weather again, I can’t wait to make beet chips and potato galettes.

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My Glass Salt Cellar
This one was a gift to myself, sort of. I had a bunch of rewards points at Crate and Barrel and used them to buy a bunch of little home items I never wanted to spend my money on. This glass salt cellar (sadly, this specific one is no longer available) was one of those things and I love it with all of my heart. I can’t tell you how convenient it is to have your salt always by your side and ready to go. Plus, the glass is easy to clean when kitchen stickiness and grime builds up!

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My Fish’s Eddy Glass Storage Bowls
My sister bought these for me last Christmas and I think they’re just delightful. These nostalgic bowls come with plastic lids that fit snugly (curbing Tupperware cabinet chaos), plus they’re the perfect size for packing up a portion of leftovers to bring to work for lunch. Also, they’re glass, so marinara sauce doesn’t stain them and greasy residue isn’t so impossible to remove like with plastic storage containers!

Are there any items in your kitchen that you can’t live without? Or, that your surprised you use as often as you do?

Photos via FoodLush, Amazon, Beauty and Her Feast, Fish’s Eddy