The title of the post is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ve decided to discontinue my “Year of Yeh” cooking and baking project. The idea was to cook my way through Molly Yeh’s cookbook Molly on the Range, and to post about my experience trying each recipe – kind of like Julie & Julia, but with a different cookbook and a less ambitious timeline. The project was fun at first, and it resulted in some awesome meals, but for a few reasons – i.e. quarantine changing the way I cook, the project limiting my creativity in the kitchen, and realizing that I didn’t enjoy blogging about the project – it just wasn’t working for me anymore.
If you followed my blog because of the Year of Yeh project, I’m sorry. I still love cooking and baking, and want that to continue to be a part of my blog, just a smaller part of it. I’m not sure what form my cooking/baking content will take in the future, but in the meantime, here are some fun things that I cooked and baked (using online recipes or my own creativity – not the Molly on the Range cookbook!) in March:
February is officially over and, even though it was only 29 days, it seemed to stretch on forever! I felt this way about January, as well, so now I wonder if winter months always seem to last forever in colder places? Or maybe it was because of the extra day in the leap year? I don’t know, but I hope that March won’t drag on the way the past two months did. Anyway, I read six books and cooked and baked some things during this seemingly endless month!
I haven’t started anything new yet! The Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist will be announced tomorrow, though, so my reading goal for March (and April and May) will be to read all the books on the list. I can’t wait!
Year of Yeh!
In February, I baked five more recipes from the cookbook Molly on the Range! They were: spinach-feta rugelach, pizza, cardamom cupcakes, cauliflower tacos, and a meatless version of chicken tot dish. Of these recipes, the two that I would most highly recommend are cardamom cupcakes and cauliflower tacos.
Notable blog posts:
A few of my favorite blog posts from February were:
Making these cardamom cupcakes was so much fun! In fact, this recipe reminded me how much I love baking. The cardamom cake batter is straightforward and quick to make. Once the cupcakes are baked and cooled, you punch/scoop out a small hole from the top (I used a small cookie cutter, but an apple-corer or spoon would work too), fill the hole with jam, cover the hole, and frost the cupcakes. Adding jam filling to the cupcakes surprisingly doesn’t require too much additional prep time.
One modification I made to these cupcakes was using mixed berry instead of lingonberry jam. I was able to find lingonberry jam at the supermarket, but I thought it was pretty bitter. Since these cupcakes were for other people, and strong/bitter flavors can be controversial, I decided to go with the more crowd-pleasing mixed-berry jam.
These cupcakes were delicious! Cardamom elevates the flavor of the cake so much, and tastes really nice with the cream cheese frosting. Adding the jam filling to the cupcakes made them a bit more challenging to make than regular cupcakes, but not that much harder! And the extra prep time is absolutely worth it for the tart, fruity flavor that the jam contributes. I would like to try this recipe again sometime using the lingonberry jam, because I suspect the contrast between the bitter lingonberry and the sweet cream cheese frosting is excellent.
If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use regular milk spiked with 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or use half a cup of plain greek yogurt and half a cup of regular milk.
Wait for the cupcakes to cool completely before starting on the jam filling! Hot cupcakes will be crumbly and difficult to disassemble, and the heat might melt the jam too.
Don’t discard the cupcake pieces that you scoop out! Save them, and when you are done filling the cupcake-holes with jam, re-seal the cupcakes with the pieces you punched out. This will make the cupcakes easier to frost.
If you can’t find lingonberry jam (or are skeptical about the flavor), any tart fruit jam (or even a curd) will work well with this recipe.
Take the cupcakes out of the cupcake pan before you frost them. It is quite challenging to remove frosted cupcakes from the cupcake pan; I learned the hard way!
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)
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)
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!
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.
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.
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!
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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).