Year of Yeh #7: (variations on) Pizza

Bold or surprising flavor combinations are a hallmark of Molly Yeh’s recipes. The key to many of Yeh’s recipes is trusting her flavor combinations – even when they seem odd – and then being blown away (by how good tahini is in a milkshake, or how adding what seemed like way too much ginger actually resulted in the perfect carrot salad).

But when it came to Yeh’s pizza recipes…I just wasn’t feeling her flavors. The pizza recipes in Molly on the Range are: Hawaiian-inspired pizza pockets, squah-and-arugula pizza, walnut-and-zucchini pizza, and butter-and-salami pizza. Maybe this isn’t very open-minded of me, but I am somewhat of a pizza traditionalist: I don’t really like toppings like butternut squash or walnuts on pizza. So my husband and I made three pizzas of our own, following Yeh’s recipe for pizza dough, but then using our own inspiration for the sauces and toppings. We ended up making three pizzas: (vegan) sausage, cilantro-garlic-corn, and pesto with sun-dried tomatoes.

The recipe: (variations on) pizza
Difficulty level: Moderate
Time: 1 hour (longer if you make pizza dough from scratch, but a lot of that time will be inactive)

Vegan-sausage pizza with spicy tomato sauce.

Making pizza from scratch (the recipes as they are written in the cookbook have you make your own pizza dough) was a learning process! The components and process of making pizza dough are similar to (maybe even exactly the same as) those of bread dough. But pizza dough is a bit tougher because you have to stretch and shape the dough. It took a lot longer than I expected to work the dough into a reasonably thin pizza crust. It’s also tough to transfer your uncooked pizza to a pizza-stone in the oven. My husband and I accidentally deformed a pizza doing this.

Luckily, pizza is robust to mistakes! You can deform your pizza, burn or dry out some of the toppings, and/or leave the dough too thick…but the pizza will most likely still taste good. The cilantro-garlic-corn pizza got deformed, and the corn dried out a bit in the oven…but it was still pizza with creamy cilantro-garlic sauce: it was delicious. The sun-dried tomato pizza wasn’t stretched thin enough, so it was pretty bread-y…but again…it’s pesto pizza: it was still very good. The (vegan) sausage pizza had the fewest technical mistakes, and was also very tasty – and as a bonus, our non-vegetarian friends really liked the vegan sausage too.

Maybe someday I will be more daring and non-traditional, and try Molly Yeh’s actual pizza recipes with toppings like butternut squash, zucchini, and walnuts. But regardless of what pizza toppings you like, I am a huge proponent of making your own pizza! (And side note: I think that getting store-bought/pre-made pizza dough is just as valid as making your dough from scratch)

Technical notes:

  • It’s hard to get pizza dough thin and perfectly round. The key to stretching the dough to an ideal thinness is patience; it just takes a while. As for the key to getting your dough perfectly round…I still don’t know.
  • It’s also challenging to transfer pizza from your work surface to a heated pizza stone in the oven (this was how my husband and I accidentally deformed our first pizza). The best solution that we came up with was putting our pizza on a sheet pan, and then putting the sheet pan on top of the pizza stone. If you know of a better way to get pizza onto a pizza stone, please let me know!
  • Pesto is delicious, but more challenging to work with than marinara or white sauce because it is so oily! Our pesto pizza leaked some oil in the oven.
  • Some toppings shouldn’t be put on until after your pizza has been baked and removed from the oven. Sun-dried tomatoes burn quickly at 500 degrees F, and corn dries out.
  • Pizza freezes really well! If you are making pizza and end up with extra pizza dough…just make an extra pizza and freeze it!

Year of Yeh #6: Spinach & Feta Rugelach

Last Sunday was the NFL’s Super Bowl (in which my hometown’s team squandered their lead in the last few minutes of the game, but it’s just a sport so whatever). My husband and I had a couple friends over – not so much to watch the game, but rather to watch the kitten bowl, play games, and eat snacks. Snacks that included Molly Yeh’s spinach & feta rugelach (i.e. spinach-feta filling wrapped in pie dough).

The recipe: Spinach and feta rugelach
Difficulty level: Moderate
Time: ~1 hour (longer if you make a pie dough from scratch)

Spinach-feta rugelach are essentially a spinach-feta filling rolled in pie dough. In her recipe, Yeh says that you can either use store-bought pie dough, or make your own dough from scratch using a recipe of your choice. I made dough from scratch using this recipe for buttery pie crust. Making your own pie crust in advance makes this recipe more time-consuming, especially since some pie crusts require a chilling period in the fridge.

So, once you make your pie dough (or thaw your frozen pie dough), you prepare a spinach-feta filling on the stove. You then roll out your pie-dough into a 1/4″-thick circle, spread a thin layer of spinach-feta filling over it, cut the circle into 8 slices, and roll up each slice. I found it difficult to roll out the pie dough into a perfect circle (how do bakers make this look so easy?), but luckily the rugelach can still turn out nicely even if the dough wasn’t rolled perfectly. Once you have your rugelach rolled, you brush them with an egg wash and bake them.

Once they are baked, the rugelach are absolutely delicious: the pie dough is buttery and flaky, while the filling is cheesy and deliciously seasoned. I do have mixed feelings about using such a buttery pie recipe, though. While the buttery taste and flaky texture are lovely, I found the buttery flavor a bit too overpowering. I think that a plainer dough would have allowed the flavor of the filling to come through a bit more. If I were to make this again (and I don’t know if I will, because it was a lot of work), I would probably use a less buttery pie dough.

Leftover rugelach! Yes, it is delicious as leftovers.

Technical notes:

  • If you follow the recipe exactly, you will end up with more filling than you can put in your rugelach. Don’t try to overfill the rugelach! The filling is delicious on its own, so you can save the leftovers for something else (perhaps an omelette).
  • It is so hard to roll out perfectly round pie dough. But because you end up cutting and rolling the pie dough anyway, it doesn’t really need to be perfect.
  • When you roll your rugelach, some spinach-feta filling will be exposed. This is fine! It won’t leak out.

Year of Yeh #4: Tahini Blondies

After making three savory recipes from Molly on the Range, I decided it was time to indulge in something sweet! I attempted to make the tahini blondie bars that are featured in the “Tahini Blondie Ice Cream Sandwiches” recipe. I only made the blondies (didn’t assemble them into ice cream sandwiches), though, because it has been really cold where I live (like 15-25 degrees F)! Definitely not ice cream weather!

The recipe: Tahini blondies (as featured in Tahini Blondie Ice Cream Sandwiches)
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 35-45 minutes

This recipe is straightforward. All you have to do is mix your dry ingredients together, mix your wet ingredients together (in a separate bowl), and then add the wet mixture to the dry. But even in a straightforward recipe, there is still room for error! My error was this: I assumed that the full amount of tahini (as listed in the ingredients section) went into the batter – when, actually, some of it is supposed to be reserved for ice cream sandwich assembly (which I didn’t even do).

The tahini bars I made ended up with a crumbly texture…but still tasted delicious!

The result was that I had nearly double the necessary amount of tahini in my batter, making it more like cookie-dough than brownie-batter. The final bake was kind of crumbly, with a consistency somewhere in between cookie and brownie. It was still very good (how can something consisting of tahini, sugar, and butter be bad?), but I wouldn’t say that I actually made Molly Yeh’s tahini blondies.

I want to try this recipe again, especially since I now know what can go wrong (yay, learning from mistakes!). And while I still probably won’t make the full ice cream sandwich recipe anytime soon…I can see how these treats would be absolutely delicious with vanilla ice cream!

Technical notes:

  • The quantity of tahini listed in the ingredients section is meant to be divided: some of it is for the blondie batter, and some of it is for the ice cream.

Year of Yeh #2: Basic Challah

This weekend, I tackled another recipe from Molly on the Range…with help from my husband, who is an excellent bread baker! There were several bread recipes (especially challah recipes) in Molly on the Range to choose from, but we decided to start with basic challah.

The recipe: Basic Challah
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 3+ hours (but much of that time is hands-off)

This challah was the perfect lazy weekend bake. It was slightly time-consuming to make, but much of the prep time was hands-off, leading to lots of down time while the dough rose. This challah was also a lot of fun to bake with a partner. My husband and I split the dough into two balls, and each braided a challah simultaneously.

On the subject of braiding the challah: that was the most challenging part of this recipe. My husband made a 5-stranded braid, and I made a 4-stranded one, but we both found that our braids were a bit loose on one end (the end where we started the braid) and tighter on the other end. Luckily, the second rise (and the third rise, or the bake) allows the dough to expand and correct any looseness.

Husband’s 5-stranded challah on the left; my 4-stranded challah on the right.

All in all, this recipe took us over 3 hours…and it was so worth it! This challah recipe is honestly perfect. The bread is soft and airy, with a smooth golden crust. Because the challah uses an enriched dough, the bread is rich and just slightly sweet, making it one of the few breads that is enjoyable on its own. But it is also excellent with butter, jam, fresh fruit, or probably anything else you want to put on it.

Sliced challah with butter and passionfruit.

Technical notes:

  • You will need a VERY LARGE bowl if you follow the recipe as it listed in the Molly on the Range cookbook (it calls for 6.5 cups of flour, as opposed to 3.5 in the scaled-down version on KAF)
  • If you have a kitchen scale, weight out your dough so that your braid strands are roughly the same size. This will make the braiding easier.
  • DON’T flour your work surface before you roll out the strands! It’s easier to elongate your dough strands if they are not coated in flour (I learned the hard way).

2019 reading review & 2020 goals

Now is the time of year when everybody is posting their 2019 reading stats, and goals for 2020. So I am going to hop on that bandwagon and do the same! I’m keeping things simple, and combining my 2019 review and 2020 goals into a single post.

Booking and blogging in 2019:

I read 34 books in 2019. Compared to many of the book-bloggers that I follow, this number is laughably low. But 2019 was my first year of reading as a hobby; prior to 2019 I never read consistently throughout any calendar year. So while the number is low compared to others’, this is definitely a personal success for me.

I baked things for 30 of the 34 books I read this year. If you follow my blog, you probably know that it started off as a dual baking/reading project, where I baked something inspired by every book that I read. Toward the end of the year, I was unable to keep up with my goal to bake something for every book. Still, 30 bakes is a lot! I became a much better baker this year; and also strengthened connections with coworkers, neighbors, and friends by regularly sharing baked goods with them.

My favorite three books that I read this year were:

2020 goals:

Read at least 45 books. Last year I read 34 books (average: ~3 per month). I would love to read even more this year! With one of my New Year’s resolutions being to limit to weeknight TV time, I think I can accomplish 45.

Read every book longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. By following amazing book-bloggers on wordpress, I learned about the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and read 6 of the 16 longlisted books. Some of these books I probably wouldn’t have read had it not been for the Women’s Prize, but I really enjoyed them: four of those books were 5-star reads for me, and one of them (Lost Children Archive) ended up being my favorite book of the year. So this year I’d like to broaden my horizons even more, and read more excellent woman-authored fiction!

Read at least two classics. In 2019, all the books I read were contemporary, with the “oldest” one being published in 2008. This makes sense, because there is always so much great new material being published. But this year I would like to at least slightly diversify by reading a couple of excellent older books.

Changes to the blog in 2020:

I will no longer be doing a bake for every book that I read. As I mentioned above, it has become too hard to keep up with this project. My bakes (and therefore my blog posts) are now over a month behind my reading, and this gap will likely continue to widen. Instead, I will post standalone book reviews, participate in blogging events, and pursue a different cooking/baking project…

I am starting a project for 2020 called “Year of Yeh.” This project is essentially Julie & Julia, but using Molly Yeh’s cookbook Molly on the Range. I recently received several cookbooks as gifts, and I want to start using them! So this year, I plan to cook and bake my way through Molly on the Range. I specifically chose this cookbook for two reasons. First, I have baked a few things from Yeh’s online blog and I really enjoy her recipes (including tahini milkshakes, coffee-cardamom cake, and fresh mint cake). And second, her cookbook contains a nice mix of main dishes, side dishes, and desserts – so I will get to try and learn many new things.

Month in review: December 2019

Happy New Year!!! The celebration of a new year can feel like an artificial way to mark the passing of time…but that being said I truly wish everybody reading this the best in 2020. December moved very quickly for me: wrapping up the last quarter at work and celebrating the holidays with friends, families, and coworkers. I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked (do I ever?) but it was a rewarding month, and 2019 was a rewarding year.

Books read:

This month, I finished reading The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. Although dense at times, this biography provided a riveting account of the life of Prussian scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who essentially came up with the concept of ecology. Humboldt was centuries ahead of his time in his hypotheses about nature and the world, and it was amazing to learn just how many famous thinkers and scientists he influenced.

I also read The Wall by John Lanchester, a dystopian fiction novel that imagines what life might be like if serious actions aren’t taken against climate change soon. I personally loved this book, but I understand that it’s not for everyone.

Bakes inspired by the books:

I am still so back-logged on bakes. I read a ton of books in November, and my baking never caught up. Early in December, I baked cupcakes inspired by Little Fires Everywhere (a book that I read in early November) – they were chocolate flavored with passionfruit buttercream frosting, and they were delicious!

I also baked chocolate shortbread cookies with chocolate glaze last month, inspired by Ali Wong’s nonfiction book Dear Girls. These cookies were decadent and delicious, and a lot of fun to decorate.

Books in progress/up next:

I am currently reading Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham. The book is a detailed, nonfiction account of the now-infamous Chernobyl nuclear disaster. I didn’t know much about Chernobyl prior to reading this book – other than the fact that it happened – and the book provides fascinating historical context for it.

I would also like to read Circe, Mobituaries, and Girl, Woman, Other this month. I hadn’t planned on reading Circe this year – not even this spring/summer when the book was hot – but it ended up on a lot of peoples’ “top 3 books of 2019” list, so I’m curious to read it and see if it lives up to the hype. Mobituaries is a nonfiction book about people or things that are no longer with us, but who should be remembered. The author hosts an excellent podcast by the same name, so I’m really excited to read the book. And I’m interested in Girl, Woman, Other because I’ve heard very good things about it (including the fact that it won the Booker Prize).

Shout-outs to some great blog posts:

  • Chaz wrote about his experience participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) – if this is something you are considering, I highly recommend his post which detailed the time and planning that goes into it
  • Ashely explained the science of herd immunity, and why it makes anti-vaxxer logic so harmful to society
  • And Aho wrote a lovely piece about the Polish mushroom dumplings known as Uszka (and the preparation that goes into making them)

Photos!

Dear Girls (and dear double-chocolate cookies)

The book: Dear Girls by Ali Wong

Last month I read Dear Girls by comedian and actress Ali Wong. The book is a collection of life-lessons that Wong has learned and wishes to share with her daughters. The book covers topics such as dating, travel, and work. The stories are intimate, shocking, often filthy, and pretty funny.

I had mixed feelings about Dear Girls, but one thing that I loved about it was that it’s frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious. I read Dear Girls on an airplane, and couldn’t stop myself from laughing out loud while reading it. Ali Wong is an incredible stand-up comedian (if you haven’t seen her comedy, I recommend the Netflix special Baby Cobra), and also, somehow, just as hilarious as a writer.

At the same time, Dear Girls wasn’t always funny to me. I found myself surprised and even disappointed by some of the perspectives Wong shared in the book. In particular, she makes light of homelessness a lot and also tells a story whose punchline is essentially: “The guy I was dating turned out to have a personality disorder! Good thing he didn’t murder me!” So I really disliked that.

But what really turned me off of this book was the fact that Wong shares all these compelling stories about the difficulty of motherhood, and what it’s like to balance being a mom and having a career…but never mentions the fact she has a nanny! The nanny is only mentioned in passing in the husband’s afterword. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that there is anything wrong with having a nanny if you have the means, and I don’t think that having a nanny makes you any less of a parent. What I take issue with is the lack of transparency: the barely-mention of having a nanny is dishonest, and makes the book feel insincere.

All in all, I thought that Dear Girls was a funny book, but it’s definitely not for everyone. If you like Ali Wong’s comedy, you will probably like her book (some of the stories are easy to imagine in her voice, which makes them even funnier). However, a few of Wong’s jokes are based upon outdated stereotypes, which is disappointing.

3 stars out of 5

The bake: chocolate cookies with chocolate glaze.

With the bake for Dear Girls, I wanted to accomplish two things. First (and perhaps obviously) I wanted to bake something inspired by the bake. And secondly, I wanted to get into the holiday spirit! So I decided to make glitzy sprinkle cookies.

For sprinkle cookies, any cookie recipe and any glaze will work. I decided to make chocolate cookies, because I already had leftover cookie dough in my freezer from the last time I made them. I decided to frost them with chocolate glaze, because I absolutely love a decadent double-chocolate dessert.

These cookies take a while to make – because the dough undergoes two separate chilling periods in the refrigerator – but the rich, chocolatey treats are well worth the wait. And the chocolate glaze on top takes these cookies to the next level; I highly recommend doing the chocolate-on-chocolate. The sprinkles don’t really add anything taste-wise, but they make the cookies look so much more festive and inviting! A glitzy, bold bake for a bold book.