Sunday, March 31, 2013

Cinnamon Biscuits (Recipe)


Imagine a warm and cinnamon-y bakery treat that wasn't sticky and oozing sugar. I found one at a San Francisco coffee shop: a cinnamon biscuit. Imagine something like a scone, but not as dry, with crispy cinnamon sugar crystals on the edge and a teaspoon of icing drizzled on top.

Here's the recipe for my replica.

Cinnamon Biscuits 
Yields 9

2 cups well sifted all-purpose flour (next time, I'll measure it in grams), plus more for dusting
3 tablespoons white granulated sugar, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
8 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, diced
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons milk, divided
1/2 confectioner's sugar (you might need more)
Preheat the oven to 425 F.

In a large bowl, sift or whisk together 2 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in the butter until you have small bits of butter throughout. It should not be a smooth mixture. You want little lumps of butter. If you literally dice the butter first, you'll have to barely work it in at all.


Stick the bowl into the refrigerator or freezer while you proceed so that the flour mixture stays very cold.

Make a runny paste with the 1 remaining tablespoon sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla extract, adding a teaspoon or two of water to adjust the consistency. You'll be spreading this paste onto the dough to try and leave sweet cinnamon streaks throughout the biscuits.

Bring the cold bowl back to your work area and make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the sour cream and 2 tablespoons of milk. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined and sticky.
Flour your work surface, dump out the dough, and pat it into a flat slab. Apply the cinnamon paste in one long streak across the center. Dust your hands in flour, and knead the dough a few times, just until streaks of cinnamon form.

Flatten the dough to about an inch and a half or two inches thick, and cut out 9 round biscuits. Place onto a cookie sheet (no grease, no paper necessary unless you don't want to have to wash the cookie sheet later), and pop them into the oven on the upper rack. If you have a convection oven, turn on the fan. Bake for about 8 to 11 minutes. The edges may burn quickly. Cool for 30 minutes.


Make the icing by combining the rest of the milk with the confectioner's sugar using a small whisk. Drizzle a small amount of icing onto each bisuit. Note that if you ice the biscuits while they're warm, the icing will melt and you won't be able to see or taste it very well.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Peruvian Soup (Recipe)




There comes a point in the year, usually in March, when New Yorkers refuse to accept weather reality. Outside, puddles freeze, the wind stings, and yet, we New Yorkers declare it time to break out denim jackets. We send our puffy coats to the dry cleaner (I did so two weeks ago), pull sandals from storage, order Caprese salad at restaurants, even though we're months away from seeing tomato plants fruit, because, damn it, the weather needs to warm up already, as if we self-centered city dwellers could force the issue by sheer will.


I fought the temperature this week, and gave in yesterday. My moment of submission? Deciding to make soup for dinner.

I adore Mexican soups, steamy bowls of boiled chicken with peppers, tomatoes (from canned of course), and crumbled queso fresco on top. My neighborhood has a significant Peruvian population, so I shifted my tastebuds further south and came up with this simple sopa. Note: The topmost image shows cilantro, which I decided against using when I tasted the soup. I opted for parsley instead.

Peruvian Chicken and Corn Soup
1 to 2 tablespoons oil of your choice (I use cannola; olive oil, corn oil, etc., would do)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 poblano pepper, chopped
salt to taste
1 14-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes (fruit drained from liquids)
2 chicken breasts, preferably with bones, cut into large pieces
6 cup chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup dried Peruvian corn, sometimes called Andes corn or maiz mote or hominy, soaked overnight in water (alternatively, use American sweet corn on the cob, husked and broken into thirds)
1 handful chopped parsley
2 tablespoons aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow pepper paste)
juice from half a lime
Garnish: 1 avocado, 1 ounce queso fresco, corn tortillas (warmed over an open flame), lime wedges
In a large soup pot, bring the chicken stock or broth to a simmer. Add the chunks of chicken with bone. Return to a simmer. Drain the corn and add it, discarding the soaking liquid. The mote corn needs to cook for about two hours. If using American sweet corn, it only needs to heat through (about 2 minutes, which significantly reduces the cooking time).

About a half hour before you want to eat, start the oil in a skillet or heavy-bottomed pot over low to medium heat. Add the onion and poblano pepper. Cook until soft, stirring frequently.

Take the tomatoes (which should be fully strained from the juice; save that for bloody Marys or tomato soup) and either roughly chop them or just pull them apart with your fingers and add to the onions and peppers. Add a generous pinch of salt.

Add the onion mixture to the soup pot. Toss in the parsley, stir in the pepper paste, and squeeze in the juice of half a lime. If you like sour soups, you can add the shell of the lime for more flavor. Just be sure not to serve it to anyone. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper paste.

Ladle the soup into big bowls and serve with a plate of garnishes: avocado slices, crumbled queso fresco, lime, and warmed corn tortillas. You could also serve this with tortilla chips (or fried tortillas).

Note: Be sure you warn your guests that the chicken contains bones. I think eating the meat off the bones adds something authentic to this style of soup, but you could use boneless chicken breast if you prefer not to be spitting out bones at the dinner table. If you use American sweet corn in place of the mote, you'll be getting messy anyway picking it up and gnawing on it. Again, I think this is fun and adds to the whole experience of this soup.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ask for What You Want

"Ask for what you really want." That's the advice. I've heard it before. But it's harder to follow in practice than it sounds.

I'm a big advocate of teaching young women to negotiate, for example. One of the theories as to why women are paid less than men on average is that women don't ask for the higher salary at the time of hire. Then, no matter what kind of raises they get in the future, they're never able to fully catch up (because raises are usually percent-based).

The last time I took a new job, I did negotiate. It was the first time I actually pushed for what I believe I deserved to earn. I didn't get quite the figure I hoped, but I did overshoot intentionally, knowing that the final offer would be lower than whatever number I cited.

One thing I did do during the negotiation process was make clear that I valued time off and title. The company was firm on the title, but I ended up with a contract under which I earn more vacation days faster than most other employees. That's a win, in my book.

Lately I've been circling back to this idea of asking for what I really want, not what I think I can get in other areas. I've been reading and listening to a lot of motivation speaker stuff — let me admit upfront that a lot of self-help motivational stuff is hogwash. Nevertheless, there's often a kernel of truth to it. One article I came across from Inc. Magazine, an interview with Mike Williams, president and CEO of the David Allen Company, i.e., the Getting Things Done brand, resurfaced the concept afresh. Before the interview, Williams asks the writer, Jeff Haden, "What would make this call wildly successful for you?" And in fact, that's where Haden starts his article: with that very interaction.

How often do we forget to ask or answer that question? "What do I want to happen?" Or "What needs to happen in order for this thing to be successful?" Or "What do I hope to get out of this?"

The point is Williams' question is an extension of asking for what you want. He's asking the reporter: "What do you really want? Why are we doing this interview? If you tell me, I'm better equipped to make it happen."

The advice proliferates everywhere. I've heard it before, often directed at women, for everything down to asking forgiveness in bank charges. That exact scenario came up for me the other day. It's a long story, but in a nutshell, I messed up and set up two very large transfers of money simultaneously when there only should have been one. At 12:01 A.M., I got an email from my bank saying my account was overdrawn. Then I had two overdraft fees of $34 each show up on my ledger. Within 24 hours, I had the fees reversed. How? I called the bank and very plainly stated, "You can see I'm a good customer. I messed up. You can see I messed up. But you can also see how quickly I corrected the problem by depositing more money. Would the bank be willing to reverse the fees due to my good-faith effort?"

I didn't ask, "What can we do to fix this?" I didn't say, "I'm unhappy being charged the overdraft fees." I said very plainly, "Here's what I would like to happen: credit me the fees."

And it worked.

Today I sent a very short email to one of my bosses that explained we need a mirror in the video shooting room. We've needed one for a long time, and it keeps getting put off. I asked for exactly what I wanted. And about an hour later, he told me to pick out one on Amazon. I picked out two. He bought both.

Ask for what you want. You just might get it. And the worst thing that usually happens is someone says, "No."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Panther Coffee (Miami)


One of the most painful things about traveling for me is finding good coffee. Sometimes I travel with my own little stove-top pot and bag of coffee grounds, and other times if I'm staying with friends of family, I rely on whatever's in their pantry. But even still, I usually want to stop somewhere for a thick and rich cappuccino, prepared with care, poured into a cup that almost seems too small, served at a beautiful bar.


Good news: It's not as hard to find these high-end coffee shops anymore. Last year, after some research, I found Bold Bean Coffee of Jacksonville, Fl., while traveling there for work. The latest stroke of luck came in Miami, when Boyfriend and I jetted off the beaten path to explore the warehouse wholesale neighborhood of Wynnwood, which has begun revitalizing into an enclave for artists (it's known for its graffiti murals). There, we found the ΓΌber hip Panther Coffee.


It's the kind of place that's spacious and full of outdoor seating. One or two trees in the front patio area create shade. Half the clientele have laptops out or are making phone calls (we overheard things like, "Did they fix the servers yet?" and "I'm working on two flyers for the DJs..."). But the coffee is solid, and the neighborhood worth exploring.