Avocado toast salad

I’m on a bit of an (intentional) microorganism kick in the kitchen lately. I’ve been watching a lot of It’s Alive. My cultured butter was aggressively unphotogenic, and the half-sour pickles in the fridge are of slight concern to me because I realize that my container isn’t truly airtight. But, my sourdough starter is still kicking! It’s a little sleepy these days, but I was able to rouse the starter enough to make a modest loaf last week.

Whenever I make a loaf of sourdough, or whenever I pick up a bag of avocados from Costco, my entire week then becomes focused around maximizing how much I can reasonably eat bread and/or avocados. If I manage to match up the times that I have a loaf of quickly-staling bread and quickly-mushing avocados, then we enter a harmonious avocado toast season. And, now, “avocado toast salad” season! I really do like to salad all the things, but this is a fun one, I promise! Salad greens+ a handful of warm za’atar croutons + pickled red onions + a medium-boiled egg + half an avocado. If your onions are already pickled and you’ve got bread handy, this meal comes together in like 15 minutes.

Avocado toast salad

1 slice of crusty bread
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons za’atar (or more to taste)
pickled red onion
1 egg
1/2 avocado
salad greens or spinach

Preheat your oven (or small toaster oven) to about 400˚F and put some water on to boil.

Cube the bread and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle on za’atar (and additional salt to taste, if your za’atar does not already include salt). Toast the bread while you prepare the other ingredients, until it’s your preferred crouton texture — I like mine crusty on the outside but still soft on the inside.

Once your water is boiling, carefully add the egg. Boil the egg for ~7 minutes (time varies a bit depending on the size of your egg and how cold it was) for a medium-boiled egg. Just before assembling the salad, slice the egg in half

Slice your avocado into thin slices, cubes, tiny “pixels,” whatever you want.

Assemble the salad.

Strawberry shortcake stack

Hello from the sky! The monitor on the seatback tells me that I am somewhere over Kansas right now, or maybe the most eastern part of Colorado? The map is small. I’m heading back to California from a whirlwind East Coast trip, where I slept in 4 different locations (including in the middle of a triple-decker bunk bed), ate Xi’an food twice, cried approximately 30 times at a wedding, and got a dear friend into Jane the Virgin.

My dinner today is strawberry Pocky (don’t worry, I’m very fed, see above double Xi’an spicy noodles), which are very fun on a plane when I can’t really taste anything, so the sweet + crunchy is amazing. When not on a plane, and making a mess, carrying liquids, and having enough space to straighten my arms aren’t concerns, I love strawberry shortcake. For a while, I had this confused with shortbread (also a fan, and also, names are confusing). But fresh strawberries and cream biscuits and whipped cream? It’s the food of dreams. Make it now, while strawberries are all over the place!

Strawberry Shortcake Stack
Adapted slightly from NYT Cooking

2 pints strawberries (washed)

1/4 cup sugar
4 cups flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup butter, slightly softened

Whipped cream:
3 cups whipping cream
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Hull (I use the paring knife method) and slice the strawberries into half or quarters, depending on their size. Sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar over the berries and gently turn over with a spoon. Allow them to macerate like this for at least 30 minutes while you make the rest of the ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 450˚. Prepare a cutting board by lightly dusting it with flour.

Sift together your dry ingredients – flour, sugar, salt, baking powder. Separate out 3/4 of your butter and add it to your dry ingredients, working it in with a pastry cutter or a fork, or with your hands (quickly). The mixture will look like coarse sand once the butter is combined.

Add the 1-1/4 cups of the cream and gently knead together with your hands, working the dough as little as possible. Gently knead the dough just enough so that it is mostly uniform, then roll it out onto your floured cutting board into a 1/2 inch thick slab.

Use a biscuit cutter, if you have one (I used a mason jar because I am a millenial) to cut into rounds — around 8 of them.

Line a baking sheet with a baking mat or parchment. Melt the leftover 1/4 butter.

Place one shortcake round on the baking sheet, then brush it with a little butter. Top it with another shortcake round. Repeat until the shortcake rounds are done. It’s not a big deal if you have one left over without a buddy… that one can be a taste test! Brush the top rounds with some butter for good measure.

Bake 10-15 minutes, until the tops are lightly golden brown and the bottoms have some color. Remove from oven when done and set aside until you’re ready to serve.

Add the remaining tablespoon of sugar to the remaining cream. Add the vanilla extract and beat until it forms a loose whipped cream.

When you are ready to serve, bring it all to the table and pull apart the shortcakes, layering with berries and cream (however each eater would like).

Two chocolate chip cookies from the Internet

These are actual topics from my Google app feed, which apparently uses “web & app activity” to guess topics of interest for me:
– cookie
– butter
– cream
– cake
– The Bachelor

I am not sure how to feel about the fact that Google has somewhat accurately pegged me as a cartoon character who dreams of desserts while desperately looking for Internet strangers with whom to belatedly freak out over The Bachelor finale.

I do know that I spend a lot of time looking at photos of chocolate chip cookies on Instagram. So, I made the two Internet-famous cookies.

First up, the pan banging cookies from The Vanilla Bean Blog. I’d admired these pretty rippled cookies for possibly years before finally making them… I’m pretty loyal to the brown butter choc chip cookies and also really like the ones from Seven Spoons. But the pretty ripples and promises of crinkly, crisp edges and a soft, chewy center lured me in. I found these slightly too sweet for my taste, in the end, and not as soft in the middle as I’d hoped. I’ll note that I did not make them as big as in the recipe (1/3 cup of cookie dough each!), which I think greatly contributed to my texture woes. But they sure are photogenic! I brought them to a high school classroom where I volunteer, and they were completely inhaled, so my tastes may be in the minority.

Pan Banging Rippled Chocolate Chip Cookies
From NYT Cooking

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
1-1/2 cups granulated white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (at least 60%), chopped

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until fluffy. Add in the sugars and beat until fluffy again. Add the egg and vanilla, mixing on low until combined.

Mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt, and add it to the butter mixture, mixing by hand until just short of combined. Add the chocolate pieces and finish mixing until just combined.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

Line 2 pans with parchment paper. (I found that these cookies did not work very well with silicon mats.)

Scoop large cookies, leaving a lot of room in between for spreading. With cookies that were about 2 Tablespoons, I could fit ~6 on a baking sheet. The recipe suggests 1/3 cup of cookie dough; I imagine even 4 cookies would be stretching it, then.

Chill the baking sheet – with cookie dough – in freezer for 15 minutes.

While the first baking sheet is chilling, prepare the second sheet.

Once the first baking sheet is done chilling, place in the preheated oven. Wait 8-10 minutes – until the center of the cookies are puffy, but the edges are set. Lift the baking sheet a few inches off the rack and let it fall (pan bang), until the centers fall down.

Repeat this every 2 minutes or so, as soon as the centers puff up. Remove when the cookies have baked a total of 13-16 minutes, when the insides are still quite soft. The cookies will finish baking on the sheet. I couldn’t resist sprinkling these with a little salt.

You can continue, switching out pans and preparing one pan during the other’s 8-10 minute first bake, until the dough is done.

Of course, I couldn’t resist finishing with a little salt.

The next cookies, salted chocolate chunk shortbread cookies from Alison Roman’s Dining In, I knew I had to make the moment I saw them. Shortbread? With salt sprinkled on top? And rolled in turbinado sugar? I knew I’d be obsessed with this cookie. I just had to wait until I was sure I could bring most of the recipe to work or an event to avoid eating 2+ sticks of butter. These cookies didn’t disappoint, for me. They’re dense and extremely buttery, and the salt and sugar make them crunchy as well as crispy. I don’t think these replace my preferred classic choc chip cookie recipes, but they are amazing. I think of them as more similar to Dorie Greenspan’s world peace cookies.

Salted Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies
From NYT Cooking

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter (preferably salted), at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
6 ounces semisweet chocolate (at least 60%), chopped
1 large egg, beaten
turbinado sugar, for rolling – about 1/4 cup
flaky salt, for sprinkling

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, both sugars, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the flour and chocolate chunks and mix on slow (or by hand) until combined. You may need to use your hands to knead the dough to coax it into combining. Don’t worry if it’s a little crumbly! The cookies are forgiving, and they’ll firm up a bit in the fridge.

Divide the dough in half, dumping each half onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Roll half the dough into a long log, using the plastic wrap to guide. I made my cookies pretty small, so my log was about 10 inches long, and the cookies were 1 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven for 350˚F.

Brush the outside of the dough with the beaten egg. Roll the log into the turbinado sugar.

Using a serrated knife or very sharp chef’s knife, carefully cut the log into 1/2 inch slices. You may need to wiggle or gently saw if you hit a chocolate chunk (or simply re-assemble a cracked cookie).

Place them on parchment or silicon-lined baking sheets with 1 inch between (they don’t spread very much at all). Sprinkle with flaky salt, and bake for 12 minutes or so, until the edges are barely browned.

Let the cookies cool before eating; they really are better cooled!

Vegetarian Pho Bowls


I’m into the idea of saunas right now. I’m not sure if it’s because the NYT told me that they’ll be good for blood pressure or because I’m chronically cold, so the idea of being surrounded by hot salt is extremely appealing, or what. The persistent dreary weather is contributing for sure. I don’t go all that often, though, despite passing by the steam room at the gym constantly.

I also have some open questions regarding the salt room. Are you allowed to touch the salt wall? If you have wet hands, does this means the wall rubs away after a while? Could I sample it like it’s a deer lick, and I’m a deer? Would it work to cook on them like a kitchen salt block? What do the kids actually mean when they say they are “salty?”

Due to these and more questions, I have been settling for my at-home sauna, which is… making pho broth and placing my face over the gingery scented steam. Yum. Omitting meat from pho definitely changes the taste; this recipe won’t imitate the taste of beef or chicken. It’s much more ginger-forward and spicy instead of savory. It’s a lot faster to make and feels lighter. Compared to restaurant pho, this pho is much less salty, and the flavor of the spices comes through more. If I’ve got leftover chicken from something, I usually make a broth and then sub the broth for the water in this broth… also quite good.

Vegetarian Pho
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 yellow onions, with peels
Thumb-sized knob of ginger
2-3 quarts water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
Some of these spices: Cinnamon stick, star anise, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cloves
1/4 cup fish sauce

2-3 servings of rice noodles (I like the brown rice ones from Star Anise Foods.)
2 cups of chopped green vegetables like bok choy
6 oz tofu, raw or baked
3 limes, halved or quartered
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 green onions, sliced
1 jalepeno, thinly sliced
2-3 handfuls of bean sprouts or other fresh/crunchy vegetable (I used thinly sliced fennel, which I had on hand)

Hoisin sauce

Preheat your oven to 400˚F. Rub a bit of vegetable oil on a small baking sheet. Quarter the onions and slice the ginger, arranging on the baking sheet. Char in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until the tips of the onion are charred and the vegetables are soft.

Boil onion, ginger, spices (you can use a tea strainer to keep the spices tidy), salt, and sugar in the water for at least 30 minutes, adjusting salt as needed. Add the fish sauce to taste after.

While the broth is boiling, parboil your noodles and green vegetables. I usually do this by arranging the noodles in a bowl and pouring hot (not boiling) water over them and letting them sit until “al dente.” For the vegetables, blanch them by submerging in boiling water for a few minutes (until bright green) and then immediately removing. Run cold water over the vegetables to stop the cooking.

When the broth is ready and all your toppings are prepared, assemble your bowls. Add a small bundle of noodles, vegetables and tofu to taste, and pour very hot broth over the bowl. Top with cilantro, green onions, jalepeno, and a squeeze of lime. Serve with hoisin sauce, Sriracha.


Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie

I seem to be talking a lot about oatmeal these days. I remain an advocate of savory oatmeal as an important part of breakfast rotation (with soy sauce and a fried egg; technique from Mom). There was an extended conversation about the place porridge has in the Millennial diet during which I’d drank so much coffee that I was slightly yelling and slightly frothy. And, relatedly, I declared oatmeal as “basically the same” as grits when I was trying to make a point about breakfast mushy foods. I’m really fun to converse with, basically.

This isn’t even including oatmeal in desserts (which I’m for, for the record). I decided to make this black bottom oatmeal pie for Pi Day at the last minute. It’s very good, and I have never deviated from the Elsen sisters’ recipe — very rare for me. It is kind of like a giant oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, as all the descriptions read. It’s also an unfussy pie (don’t let the double layers of filling scare you). The ganache layer on the bottom is forgiving since it’s not visible, and the oatmeal/custard layer comes together in one bowl and bakes up evenly. There’s no second rolling of a crust or too much liquid to worry about. And it smells so good while it’s baking.

And, bonus, if you bring it in to your office, you get to talk at your coworkers about, you know, how oatmeal works conceptually in pies.

Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie
From The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, via Food52

1 single pie crust, rolled and placed into a pie tin (I used my usual buttermilk pie crust from Joy the Baker)

1-1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 oz 70% or more chocolate, chopped into small pieces
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons melted butter
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Parbake your pie crust for 15 minutes using pie weights. Beat one egg and brush the pie crust bottom with the egg and return to the oven for 1-2 minutes, uncovered, just to set the egg. Save the rest of the egg for the filling.

Lower the temperature of the oven to 350°F. Spread the oats out on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until they smell… toasty, around 12 minutes. Set aside to cool while you make the filling

Make the ganache by bringing the cream to just under a boil using medium heat in a saucepan. Remove the saucepan from the heat, pour in the chocolate pieces, and let it sit for a few minutes to melt the chocolate. Stir gently until the ganache is smooth. Spread the ganache onto your pie crust evenly, and place the pie crust in the freezer to set the ganache.

In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, ginger, salt, and melted butter, whisking until combined. Add the corn syrup, vanilla, and apple cider vinegar, whisking again.

Beat all 4 eggs (including the egg you saved from the beginning) and add a little at a time, whisking to combine. Stir in the cooled oats.

Retrieve the pie shell from the freezer and place on a baking sheet. Carefully pour in the oatmeal filling.

Bake in the oven for 50 minutes to an hour, rotating midway through. The pie is done when the edges are slightly puffed, and the center is not liquidy but still has some give.

Pie should be cooled completely before serving. A little finishing salt is very good on this pie.