Sometimes, when I tell people that I love to cook and bake at home, they’re surprised. It’s kind of a downshift for me. Taking the time to cook for my family and friends brings me joy and is an expression of my love. Raising my 9-year-old and running my business keeps my schedule pretty full, so I welcome the relaxed pace of cooking in my “other” kitchen.
My husband is a professional athlete and trains like a beast many hours a day, five or six days a week. I love the challenge of keeping him fueled. His favorite meal usually involves a large portion of protein, a few fresh veggies, and a little something sweet to balance it all out. I have a few classic favorites and some new recipes here that, together, make a perfect meal for my family.
I do this thing when I am testing a new recipe where I obsess. I read it no fewer than 20 times. Then I make my list and set out everything I need. That’s one of the first things we learned in culinary school. Mise en place—it means get everything you need in front of you. There is nothing like being halfway through a recipe and realizing that you’re out of baking soda! Try it, it will make a difference with any dish you make.
There’s no question that early on Erin Brown, owner of Dolce Bakery, discovered her true passion.
“I love to bake,” Brown says. “I’ve been baking since I was seven.”
So by the time she opened her bakery when she was 24, she knew her destiny. “Before that I was a freelance pastry artist,” she says, baking very delectable wedding cakes and wholesale products for clients like Dean & Deluca.
After receiving her degree in hospitality management at JCCC, Brown planned to travel and further her culinary education, but a chance discovery of the perfect site led her to launch Dolce in 2007.
“Dolce means sweet,” she says, “and I wanted something sweet and simple that gave me product flexibility. I love the opportunity to reach so many people with my baked goods, baked with love.”
Let’s begin with an aperitif. I am most certainly a bourbon girl, but I am also learning to love rye whiskey. My husband and I stumbled upon sazeracs and we were hooked. I have been experimenting for a bit in pursuit of making a fine one. I tend to like a less sweet cocktail, but the one sugar cube in my current sazerac recipe seems to work.
1.5 oz rye whiskey (Our current favorite is Masterson’s 10 Year Old)
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Dash of Angostura bitters
Dash of absinthe
Twist of orange peel
1. Fill an old-fashioned glass with ice.
2. Put the sugar cube in a second old-fashioned glass with just enough water to moisten it, then crush the cube.
3. Add the rye, the two bitters and a few cubes of ice and stir.
4. Discard the ice from the first glass, and pour in the absinthe.
5. Turn the glass to coat the sides with the absinthe, then pour out the excess. (At this point, add a large ice cube to the glass.)
6. Strain the rye mixture into the absinthe-coated glass.
7. Twist and squeeze an orange peel over the glass. Rub the rim of the glass with the peel and toss it in.
2 medium beets, trimmed and scrubbed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2 navel oranges, zest the peel and then segment the fruit (I like Cara Cara oranges)
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup walnut oil
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/3 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 head red leaf lettuce, rinsed, dried, and torn into pieces (Or you canuse a combination of arugula and mixed baby greens)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay the beets on one half of a large piece of aluminum foil. Sprinkle with olive oil and season with salt. Fold the foil in half to make a packet and roll the edges to seal. Lay on a baking sheet, and roast until tender, 45 to 60 minutes. Let cool. Peel the beets and slice into 1/2-inch thick wedges.
2. Zest one orange. You need one teaspoon grated zest. Using a very sharp knife, cut the ends from the oranges, slicing just deep enough to expose the flesh. Cut off the remaining peel and pith. Then, working over a bowl, remove the segments, cutting between the membranes.
3. In a small Mason jar, combine the shallot, orange zest, fennel seeds, lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and walnut oil. Secure the lid and shake to blend. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
4. In a large salad bowl, combine the lettuce, beets, walnuts and gorgonzola. Drain the orange sections and add them to the salad. Pour in the dressing and toss to mix. Adjust seasoning.
I originally bought my cast-iron skillet to fry chicken but am happy to report it is the perfect pan for our Sunday morning bacon and delicious tarte tatins. It can handle every bit of heat I put it through, and it’s my secret weapon when preparing a delicious steak. Because I can get it screaming hot, I can get a lovely sear on the outside of the steak.
1 boneless rib-eye steak (1.5-inch thick)
Canola oil, to coat
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1. Place a 10- to 12-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring the steak to room temperature.
2. When the oven reaches the correct temperature, remove the skillet and place on the range over high heat for five minutes. (It really needs the full five minutes. You may need to turn on your vent hood if it gets smoky) Coat the steak lightly with oil and sprinkle both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. (Be generous)
3. Immediately place the steak in the middle of the hot, dry skillet.
a. Cook for 30 seconds (don’t touch it!).
b. Turn with tongs and cook for another 30 seconds.
c. Put the pan straight into the oven for two minutes.
d. Flip the steak and cook for two more minutes. e. Remove the steak from the skillet and cover loosely with foil to rest for two minutes. (At this point your steak is medium rare, which is what we do in my house.)
When I say “affogato,” I’m surprised at how many people have no idea what it means. It’s a rich, hot shot of espresso poured over gelato or ice cream. It is pure and simple, bitter and sweet. I usually serve them with cookies, because my husband loves cookies, and I serve everything with cookies. These delectable chocolate-chunk cookies would be perfect with the ice cream. (I think snick- erdoodles would be exceptional here too.)
Affogatos with Chocolate Chunk Cookies
The best vanilla ice cream or gelato (a couple of generous scoops per person)
Fresh hot espresso (1-2 shots per person)
2 cookies per person (recipe follows)
1. Scoop ice cream (or gelato) into bowl.
2. Pour hot espresso over the top.
3. Serve immediately with cookies.
Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Makes 24 (2-oz) cookies
2-1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 cups regular semisweet chocolate chunks
1 cup large bittersweet chocolate chips
1-1/2 cups walnuts, finely chopped
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste)
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Sift flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
3. Mix together chocolate chips, chunks and chopped nuts. Set aside.
4. All medium speed unless otherwise noted:
In a standing mixer, with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until well mixed and light. Scrape down the sides.
Add one egg. Mix for 5 seconds. Scrape down the sides. Add second egg. Mix for 5 seconds. Scrape down the sides. Add vanilla. Mix for 5 seconds. Scrape down the sides.
5. You’re going to add the sifted flour mixture in four batches, stopping before adding the final batch. For the first three batches, mix at low speed just to combine, scraping down the sides between each addition. When you get to the final batch of flour, add the chocolate chip/nut mixture. They will get a bit crushed. Mix until there’s barely a trace of flour visible. Don’t over-mix. Sometimes, it’s better to be safe and do the final bit of mixing by hand.
6. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Bake one tray at a time. The cookie size is up to you. (I find the bigger they are, the better ratio you have between gooey interior and crisp exterior. Two ounces is about right for that.)
7. Leave a few inches between the raw cookies. Place sheet pan in the oven. They bake pretty quickly. They’re done when they’re brown and crispy on the outer border and raw in the very middle (8 to 10 minutes). Remove sheet pan. Allow to cool for a few minutes; transfer cookies to a cookie rack to cool.
If you are working a few days ahead, portion them out with an ice cream scoop, place them on a sheet pan, and freeze. Once firm, store them in a Ziploc bag.