Tuesday, November 8, 2011
No, I haven’t made Christmas cookies yet, and I’m only vaguely considering what to bring for Thanksgiving dinner, which I am not hosting this year, alas. I actually just found a bag of a Christmas sugar cookies from last year hidden in the depths of my freezer. (Notes to self: Bake fewer cookies this year and/or give more away. Also, discard last year’s cookies that now likely have freezer burn.)
My holiday baking began with last Monday’s impromptu Halloween pumpkin whoopie pies with maple buttercream and culminated in the weekend’s brownie making to bring to a Diwali celebration. Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is a major holiday in India; I was specifically asked to bring brownies to add to the dessert table’s array of mostly Indian sweets; usually, I’d make something a bit more enthralling.
I actually rarely prepare brownies from scratch. (See above note.) I bake many trays twice yearly for our shows, like the hilarious farce Lend Me a Tenor opening this week on Friday, November 11. I make several pans per performance, however, so I don’t do that by hand. Too time consuming, and too expensive. Why am I telling you this, you ask? It’s no big secret; I never take credit for things I haven’t done, so I simply say, when people oooh and aaah over the brownies—and boy do they—that they can simply buy a box of Ghiradelli triple chocolate chunk brownies and they, too, will have warm gooey brownies oozing with chocolate chunks. There are a number of really stellar brownie mixes on the shelves, which is very helpful in these situations.
That said, if I’m making something for my home or a party, clearly I’m going to make it from scratch. I used Martha Stewart’s recipe and it did not disappoint. These were intensely chocolately brownies that I have no doubt would satisfy the most discerning of palates. I thought they were outstanding, but couldn’t find the exact recipe online as mine was hardcopy from one of the magazines this year. When I tried to find it, there were way too many variants from which to choose – including one where she bakes brownies with Snoop Dogg (insert obvious references here, or check out the article and YouTube video and see for yourself). I added about a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips to the batter, which used mainly dark chocolate (70% cacao). I also used white whole wheat flour, which worked splendidly and had no deleterious effect on taste and texture whatsoever. I would tell you, trust me; I take my baking very seriously and there are times when only white flour will do. (No, the substitution of 100% whole wheat flour for white flour for does not make brownies a health food.)
Brownies aside, I had already been thinking that it’s been awhile since I’ve made Indian food, so, inspired by Saturday’s Diwali feast, I got a few dishes underway on Sunday. I made baingan bharta (above), which is roasted eggplant, as well as aloo gobi (below, cauliflower and potato). Both are North Indian curries that perhaps some of you have had before. I also made some raita (below, left) and jasmine brown rice to accompany the curries. I prepared extra, as I don’t have a lot of time to cook this week and I wanted to have food on hand for those late post-theatre evenings.
Between the Indian dishes, my copious salad ingredients, and a night or two of take out, I will be set for the week. Getting my salad greens prepped and some cooking done on the weekends to have food on hand for the week is really critical for me: it’s a strategy that keeps me healthy, happy, and enjoying fresh meals even when I don’t have time to cook. I also made enough food such that I’ll put a container of each Indian dish into the freezer for future consumption.
As we move into the cooler months, you will see that cooking ethnic foods from the Eastern world is a big part of my repertoire, including Indian and Thai in particular but also Japanese and Chinese. I had so much fun taking a cooking class when I visited Thailand a few years back, where I learned to make such staples as pad thai, vegetable green curry, and chicken lemongrass soup, among others.
Anyhow, I agree that it feels a bit early to get into all the holiday hullabaloo already, but the lights are coming up along the streets, travel plans are in development, and a slew of seasonal films are arriving in the theaters. Thanksgiving is just about two weeks away, and visions of whoopie pies dance in my head, alongside pumpkin bread pudding salted bourbon caramel sauce. (The latter is one of the top desserts I made last year, hands down, and I will definitely be making that again. Perhaps this year I’ll try it with caramel ice cream or crème anglaise…)
Plus, this year the holidays will take on a discernibly different twist, as I’ll be sharing them with you, my readers—and I very much look forward to that.