Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies II - The Sequel




Okay, in general, a sequel is never as good as the original, right? I mean, raise your hand if you are a fan of Caddyshack II. Anyone? Jaws 3-D? Rocky V? C'mon, somebody's gotta love these movies, right? No?

Yeah, me neither. Sequels pretty much suck. BUT! That's in Hollywood, where they also think that Jessica Simpson is fat. Come. On.

In the real world, I would kill to be as fat as Jessica Simpson, and sequels don't suck, at least if they are sequels to the world's best chocolate chip cookie recipe. Could I make it even better? (Ooh, sorry. Slipped into Cook's-Illustrated-Speak there.)

I made another batch of these cookies; a double batch, in fact, but this time I subbed out the AP flour for bread flour, didn't bother with the fussy reshaping step, and per the New York Times, stuck it in my fridge for 36 hours, and tried to forget they were in there. Actually, I was so successful at this that they stayed in the fridge for more like 48 hours, because I, um, forgot they were in there.

The results were seriously, amazingly, orgasmically good. The cookie stayed thicker than my first batch, had an interior texture that was unbelievable - how can a cookie be perfectly chewy and yet utterly melt in your mouth at the same time? I dunno, but these bad boys managed it. The flavor was, like the NYT predicted, more complex and caramelly than the average chocolate chipper, without taking away from the essence of what a CCC is supposed to taste like.

All I can say is, if I keep making these cookies, I have zero chance of ever looking like Jessica Simpson. It's a tradeoff I'm willing to make.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Sequel
(double batch)

4 1/4 cups bread flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
3-4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line several large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

With an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in the chips to taste.

Put dough into a sealed container (I used a gallon sized zipper bag) and refrigerate for 36 hours. (Dough will stiffen. Freak out not.)

Roll a scant 1/4 cup of the dough into a ball.

Place the formed dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart.

Bake until the cookies are light golden brown and the outer edges just start to harden yet the centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time.

Pull the cookies out of the oven while they still seem a little underbaked, and let them cool completely on the sheets.

Yield: About 36 - 40 large cookies.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Loaded Baked Potato Soup




Hey, I dunno if you've gotten this vibe, but I love carbs. (Whether they love me is a post for another day.)

But after awhile, a girl craves something other than sugar. Granted, in my case this takes a long, LONG time, but I do eventually get there.

And if you want carbs-not-sugar, and it happens to be, you know, oppressively gray, cold and bleak where you live - not that I'm complaining, mind you - well, one of the first things that comes to mind is soup.

And this is some amazing soup. How amazing? Well, I actually had to make a second batch for this post because the Fartketeers inhaled the first batch the other night before I could save some out to take a picture. I mean, the recipe is supposed to serve eight. And these guys were having thirds. Then, when I told them I was going to have to make another batch for dinner tonight so that I could get a picture? They cheered. Loaded Baked Potato Soup twice in 48 hours? Ah, the food gods are smiling on us.

This is a seriously thick soup. As in, it really has one foot in the Cream Gravy camp. You could serve this stuff over biscuits, if you were REALLY carb happy. But, take that as a good thing. This is comfort food on steroids. I dare you to eat it and not feel at least temporarily better about it still being January outside.

Loaded Baked Potato Soup


4 large baking potatoes, baked and cooled to room temp
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 yellow onion, diced
2/3 cup flour
6 cups milk (it is fine to use fat-free milk here. The soup will still be uber-rich and creamy, trust me.)
3/4 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 t. freeze dried chives
1 cup sour cream
1 cup (about 10 strips) bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese


Cube potatoes and set aside. Melt butter in large saucepan or stock pot. Add onions and saute over medium high heat until soft. Add flour. This is a very dry roux, so watch carefully and stir constantly for 2-3 minutes, just to cook off the raw flour taste. Add about a quarter of the milk and stir until mostly smooth; continue to add milk a quarter at a time to prevent lumps from forming. Add salt, pepper and chives, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once soup has boiled, reduce heat to low, and add sour cream and cheese, and stir until cheese is melted. Add bacon and potatoes, and cook for another 2-3 minutes until potatoes are warmed. Garnish with additional cheese and chives if desired.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Chambord Chronicles Volume 1: Raspberry Glazed Lemon Pound Cake



Sorry, no Tuesdays with Dorie post today; I ended up with too many other baked goods in the house to justify making one more thing this week. Next week is World Peace Cookies, though, so I will be back with bells on!


In an effort to use up the bottle of Chambord that found it's way to my house, I baked a Raspberry Glazed Lemon Pound Cake this weekend. Because I was home all alone, and nothing says more-cake-than-one-person-should-ever-eat than an entire pound cake, all to oneself.

(oh, okay, FINE. I saved it until the Fartketeers got home. With, I might add, the Snack Mix Bars that they forgot to put out for snack time. Baked goods? Why yes, we have a few at home right now.)



The cake was pretty good; the lemon flavor was very light, which let the bright, tangy raspberry glaze really come through. I loved that the cake was pale yellow and the glaze was carnation pink; it was so sweet and girly. (Which did not, I might note, stop the Fartketeers from inhaling it. No manhood issues with this crew.) I was worried that there would be an alcohol flavor in the glaze, but either I've become totally immune to it, or it wasn't noticeable. I'm going to remain mysterious and let you decide.

The cake did start to dry out and feel a little heavy the next day, which of course only meant that we were compelled to eat it all, right. then. Because heaven forbid we had bad cake lying around. The horror!

aside - a public service announcement for my dear readers: a Microplane Grater Zester does not discriminate between lemon rind and human skin. Shocking, I know. I strongly suggest the use of chain mail when using this implement. Maybe even a double layer. And protective glasses. And one of those censor-beeper thingies. I would not want anyone else's knuckles (or innocent's ears) to suffer the same fate as mine, because well, it hurt like a beyotch.

Raspberry Glazed Lemon Pound Cake

3 cups cake flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 T. freshly grated lemon rind
1 cup sour cream
2 T. Chambord

Glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 T. Chambord
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1 T. butter, melted


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 16-cup tube pan. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
Using electric mixer, beat butter at medium speed until fluffy. Add sugar; cream for 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating just until combined after each addition. Beat in lemon juice, peel and sour cream. Add dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Let cake cool in pan on rack 15 minutes, then transfer to rack. Brush with Chambord while warm. Cool completely before glazing.

For glaze:
Combine powdered sugar, liqueur, juice, and butter, whisking until smooth. Pour over cooled cake.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chambord

One of the great things about baking is that it allows you to justify going out and buying all kinds of cool gadgets and ingredients. I maybe kinda sorta got caught up in the moment, and took advantage of King Arthur Flour's chocolate sale, for instance. (It's only running until Tuesday - get thee hence!) And I might've gone to Williams Sonoma to buy a brand spankin' new tart pan to make Dorie's French Pear Tart, because I would not have wanted to insult her by baking this dessert in *gasp* a pie pan.

So, as I was looking at the recipe for Berry Surprise Cake, I saw that it included a berry liqueur; kirsch, chambord, framboise, you get the idea. Cool. I didn't have any in the house and thought it might be a nice ingredient to have on hand. Only, I wanted a s-m-a-l-l bottle, because yeah, nobody needs a half gallon of kirsch.

I forgot that I needed the liqueur until a Saturday night. In which there was a raging blizzard, natch. Sigh. I wanted to bake the cake on a Sunday, but buying liquor on a Sunday doesn't happen around here. So. Out into the blizzard I was going to have to go.

Under those tight circumstances, I gave up on finding kirsch in my white-bread suburban town; the stores I called either didn't carry it or didn't even know what it was. (!) But one store assured me they had a small bottle of Chambord on the shelf, so off I went.

Without remembering to ask the price of the Chambord. My bad.

Because it turns out that they must use unicorns to stomp the fruit for this stuff, and then add fairy dust to it, or something. I can't figure out what else would make a small bottle of raspberry liqueur cost $24.00. I know, maybe it's just that I'm a cheapskate, but damn.

Once I saw the bottle, however, it all became clear. It costs that much, because they actually put the liqueur into the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch!




So, I ponied up the 24 bucks, took my Holy Chambord Hand Grenade back out into the blizzard, and headed home.

But wait - if you're still with me, here's the punch line:

I forgot to put it in the cake.

Yep. Clean forgot. Because that's the kind of brilliantness that I'm known for. And I can't return the Chambord, because I opened it to get a tiny taste. Alrighty then. There's an object lesson in there somewhere, I'm sure.

So what's a blonde girl to do? Well, bake with Chambord apparently, from now until the cows come home. The hand grenade bottle states that it's best used within 6 months. So. I herewith intend to embark on a Chambord baking adventure. I'm looking for interesting recipes that use Chambord; I've already found a hundred different recipes for Flourless Chocolate Torte with Chambord, Deep Fudgy Brownies with Chambord, and any other variation of, "Hey, I know! Let's pour some Chambord in this decadent chocolate dessert recipe! Brilliant!"

But, if you, one of my six loyal (non-commenting, ahem) readers, has a really sparkling, different recipe using Chambord, give me a shout.

Otherwise I'm gonna hafta use this stuff to snuff out killer rabbits.

Friday, January 23, 2009

in which I finally make something that almost doesn't suck

I've been cooking this week; cooking AND baking, in fact, but my success quotient is, er, down. Way down. I'm gonna hold off on playing the lottery for another week or so, let's say.

First, I started off with Shirley Corriher's Mile High Popovers. I knew Shirley wouldn't let me down. Surely, Shirley?

Or not.




Huh. I just don't remember anything in the recipe warning me that there would be an abyss the size of a black hole in every. single. popover. WTF?

I followed the recipe uber-closely; the only difference was that since I don't own a dedicated popover pan (yet), I made them in muffin tins. I don't think this accounts for popover sinkholes, but I am not a food scientist, nor do I play one on tv, so what do I know.

Next! Roasted Broccoli and Bell Pepper. Simple! Straightforward! And, bonus, something not laden with sugar and butter!

A few weeks ago, I read Melissa Clark's NYT article about roasted broccoli and shrimp, and it reminded me that I hadn't roasted veggies in awhile, which is a crying shame. Because roasting vegetables is a beautiful thing. So, I took some broccoli florets, a yellow bell pepper that was languishing in the veg drawer, some olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and thyme, and then because I was feeling reckless, dashed some sesame seeds in there and mixed the whole thing up.

Despite my photography skills, the veg didn't look that bad.




But here's the thing about broccoli. If, in the midst of making a dinner of pot roast, mashed potatoes and roasted broccoli, you get so absorbed in the work of the kitchen that you, say, turn off the timer but forget to turn off the heat or take the roasted veggies out of the oven? Well, bad things happen. Bad, unable-to-be-photographed kinds of things. I briefly considered taking a picture of the blackened, mushy morass, but for the sake of the children, thought better of it.

Which leads me to today. I live at home with a husband and two adolescent boys who I dearly love. But they do make a lot of man jokes. And they fart a lot. Which, for reasons unclear to me, brings them endless amounts of glee. I am happy that flatulence fills them with such joy, but I have to say that living with the Three Fartketeers does sometimes make a girl feel like it's not a home, so much as a never-ending frat party.

So when they leave for the weekend to go on Scout campouts (with other joyful farters), there's a certain je ne sais quoi about the peace, quiet, and lack of malodorousness in the house that I enjoy very much. So much so, that I am happy to bake fun treats for them, to encourage them to leave.

Today I made them some Snack Mix Bars. They are... what is the word I'm looking for? Killer. Sweet, salty, sticky, crunchy, chocolate, peanut butter bliss. In the office where I used to work (filled with women), we named them PMS bars, for obvious reasons. However, the name is somewhat less apropos on a Boy Scout Campout, so this weekend they are Snack Mix Bars. You can name them Hello, Sailor Bars if it makes you feel better, I'm pretty easy about stuff like this.



Even these didn't turn out as good as they usually do for me; they didn't set up all the way, and many of them started to fall apart. Eh. They're in a ziploc bag, being eaten by a bunch of 12-16 year old boys who will not care if they happen to morph into Snack Mix Trail Mix. Normally, if you follow the directions and you're not, ahem, living under a bad kitchen moon, they will set up so that they can be cut into bars.

Snack Mix Bars

2 1/2 cups of halved pretzel sticks
1 1/2 cups plain m & m's
1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts
2 cups crisp rice cereal
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
5 cups mini-marshmallows

Mix pretzels, candy, peanuts and cereal in a bowl. Melt butter and peanut butter together. Once melted, stir in marshmallows until melted. (I dump this all in a large microwaveable bowl and end up zapping it again in 30-second increments to get the marshmallows completely melted. YMMV.) Stir melted mixture thoroughly into snack mix, then press into a well greased 9x13 pan. Cool, and cut into squares.

a hint - I save the wrapper from the stick of butter, and use it, buttered side down, to press the sticky mixture solidly in the pan. Works like a charm.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

TWD - The Inauguration Edition




Happy Inauguration Day! Can you feel the excitement in the air? What a privilege to be a witness to history, and I didn't want to miss a moment of it. But, since I didn't get an invitation to any of the Inaugural Balls, I'm now finally free to share my weekly Tuesdays with Dorie post.

This week's recipe was Berry Surprise Cake, chosen by Mary of Meet Me in the Kitchen. It was such a great choice, and it's been fun to see how all the creative food bloggers chose to interpret Dorie's recipe! To see the full recipe, head on over to Mary's site.

I had never made genoise before, and so in addition to reading Dorie's recipe v-e-r-y closely, I also read Shirley Corriher's discussion in BakeWise. I love Shirley's book - it is very informative and I love learning more about the science of cooking. After reading Shirley, I knew that I had to be super careful with the temperature of my eggs, and so I used my instant-read thermometer while I was whisking them in their water bath, to get them to exactly 90 degrees. I also learned that keeping the mixer speed at medium is critical for forming small bubbles that will help with rise and texture.
I was very fortunate in that I didn't seem to have the sinking problem that some people encountered with their cakes. (Dumb luck, really... plenty of other bakers were careful with their temp and mixer speed, and their cakes fell. I'm almost afraid to try this again - I don't know if I can get this lucky twice in a row!) Mine deflated just a little in the middle, but otherwise stayed pretty stable.
I debated about how to actually make the cake - the idea of hollowing out the middle and filling it with berries never really appealed to me, I'm afraid. I decided instead to make the cake as it might have looked in Dorie's cardboard tube. I'm danger with a biscuit cutter, I tell you.

But then what about the berries? There are not a lot of fresh local berries in my neck of the woods in January (hey, have I mentioned that it's gray and cold and bleak? Yes? Well, never mind, then.), but I did have some blueberries and some cranberries in the freezer; and that's when it struck me. Both truly American fruits, one red and one blue, with a white filling, they would be perfect for Inauguration Day! I decided to make the fruits into a curd. Supper In Stereo had posted a fabulous looking Nigella Lawson recipe for Cranberry Curd, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The cranberry curd is to. die. for. Amazing. Tangy. Sweet. Buttery. Jewel-colored. I tried the same recipe with an equal weight of blueberries, reducing the liquid by half, and the flavor is incredible, but it doesn't have the same thick, jam-like texture. It probably needed a little cornstarch to give it the oomph that would have helped it look better in the picture and not ooze all over the place. *sigh*

I really liked the cake; it isn't named a sponge cake for nothing. It's texture alone was a little dry, but it was the perfect foil for the fruit and filling, and it all worked together really well - the filling was creamy without being too sweet, the fruit curds were sweet and bright, and the cake was sturdy and textural against the softness of the other components. Another winner!

Check out all the other TWD bloggers this week for some really great posts. And thanks again, Mary!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Basque Chicken and Chorizo Saute



I hate to admit this, but I'm not crazy about cooking. Really. So much chopping, and searing, and mincing, and reducing. I find it all a little tiresome some days, and if I never had to deglaze another pan as long as I lived, well, I wouldn't be that disappointed.

Mind you, I like eating all that stuff. I just would rather be baking than cooking. But I also don't like to eat pre-packaged, preservative-ized (yes that IS a word. Shut up.) food. So I cook, from scratch, and it's not like it totally stinks, relative to a lot of other things I could be doing, but I get a lot more satisfaction out of making the cornbread to go with the chili than I do out of making the chili itself.

But I decided to try a new dinner recipe, and this recipe for Basque Chicken and Chorizo Saute from Food and Wine seemed like as good an option as any. It was created by Daniel Boulud. How bad could it be?

Not bad at all, as it turns out. Really, really good, in fact. The sauce that gets created is sweet and spicy and deep and complex and red, and the chicken is tender and juicy. And it wasn't hard, though my kitchen was an unholy mess by the time all was said and done. This, however, speaks more to my inability to keep chorizo grease from sloshing out of the pan all over my stovetop than anything inherently involved in the recipe. In other words, I'm a klutz. Don't blame Daniel Boulud for that.

I didn't really change the recipe as such. I lost patience with trying to hunt down dry chorizo at the grocery store, so I just bought (not-dry? regular?) chorizo instead and crumbled 4 oz. into the pan. I would recommend the dry, though. While the dish had chorizo flavor, the sausage itself got lost in all the other stuff. I used 4 chicken leg quarters because that's all that would fit in my pan. I also dialed back the crushed red pepper based on the preferences of my family. Beyond that, I followed the recipe as written. Make sure you have lots of crusty bread on hand to mop up the sauce!

Basque Chicken and Chorizo Saute
courtesy of Food and Wine Magazine

4 ounces dry chorizo, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 whole chicken legs, split (3 1/2 pounds)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 medium red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch-thick strips
2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 large thyme sprigs
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup dry sherry
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
One 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and pressed dry
2 tablespoons shredded basil

Heat a really, REALLY big, deep skillet. Add the chorizo and cook over medium heat, stirring, until lightly browned. Remove chorizo from pan and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in the skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook over medium high heat, turning once, until well browned, about 15 minutes. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Add the bell peppers, onions, garlic and thyme to the skillet and cook over medium heat until onion starts to reduce, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sherry, paprika and crushed red pepper and cook for 1 minute, scraping up any browned bits from the pan.

Return the chicken and chorizo to the skillet. Cover and simmer over medium low heat, turning once, until the chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes.

Add artichokes.

Raise the heat to medium and cook uncovered until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a large, deep platter.

Stir the basil into the sauce and continue cooking for about 5 minutes to further reduce sauce. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies




I was wandering aimlessly through Food Bloggerland awhile back, when I stumbled on a recipe for Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies at Jaime's terrific blog. The pictures looked so good, and as we all know, cookies are always right. I'm still in utter despair about the fact that we have months of cold, gray, bleak winter ahead of us (this will be a recurring theme, in case you hadn't noticed), and I knew that cookies would take my mind off the misery, at least temporarily.

These cookies do live up to their name. They are big, and thick, and crispy around the edges but melt-in-your-mouth chewy on the inside. I added 1/2 cup of pecans to mine, because ... sometimes you feel like a nut. Do heed the instructions not to overcook them, and let them cool on the cookie sheet. I also found that doing the whole roll-yank-twist-smoosh thing didn't result in tops that were substantially more jagged or (even though I did it) worth the effort. Just sayin' - if that's going to be a deal breaker for you, then skip the step. The cookies will still taste remarkable.


Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies


2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (10 5/8 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in the chips to taste.

Roll a scant 1/4 cup of the dough into a ball.

Hold the dough ball with the fingertips of both hands and pull into 2 equal halves.

Rotate the halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, join the halves together at their base, again forming a single ball, being careful not to smooth the dough’s uneven surface.

Place the formed dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, jagged surface up, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart.

Bake until the cookies are light golden brown and the outer edges start to harden yet the centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time.

Cool the cookies on the sheets.

Yield: About 18 large cookies.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie - Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins




Ah, corn muffins. So hearty and filling, a perfect accompaniment to a winter's bowl of chili. I was really looking forward to this recipe - simple, yet creative. And it's a Dorie recipe, so they would of course be wonderful, right?

Well... sort of.

I made this recipe with some minor tweaking: since I knew that most of us (husband excluded) wouldn't be crazy about the jalapeno, I subbed it out - instead I added 1 tsp. of toasted cumin seeds, and dropped the chili powder back to 1/2 tsp. so that it wouldn't compete with the cumin.

The flavor of the muffins was terrific; the cumin really shone, the corn and pepper gave it some sweetness and we all loved the cilantro. Winner!

But.

The organic corn meal that I keep on hand has a rather different texture than most cornmeals. Rather than being granular, it is almost powdery.



This is the only thing I can figure that would cause the texture of the muffins to be very dry and overly crumbly; they fell apart in our hands. I found this a little odd, since I can use this cornmeal successfully in my other "standby" recipes (well; not polenta, but that's a different story entirely), but it didn't work for this recipe. The flavors were so intriguing, however, that I am almost itching to give this recipe another try with a coarser cornmeal - the recipe does call for "stone ground", which I would assume would generally have a more granular texture.

And even crumbly muffins look good in pictures...




A super-duper thanks to Rebecca over at Ezra Pound Cake for this week's pick! And as always, thanks to Laurie for the herculean effort of coordinating the TWD bakers. Check out the blogroll this week for lots of interesting variations and opinions!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

weekend breakfast



Disclaimer: The recipe you are about to read is not low fat. It is not low carb, gluten free or dairy free, and was created in a kitchen also used for peanut butter and jelly sandwich processing. While Biscuits and Gravy can provide relief from the doldrums of a gray, snowy Saturday morning, this recipe may not be right for everyone, and serious side effects may occur. Side effects include second helpings, need to wear elastic waist pants, and hardening of the arteries. Ask your doctor if Biscuits and Gravy are right for you.


I made these biscuits along with some basic but fabulous sausage gravy, and yeah, it was sort of worth every sticky-platelet bite. You really don't want to have this for breakfast every morning, and you really don't want to follow it up with a double cheeseburger and supersized fries for lunch, but hey - everything in moderation, right?

The biscuit recipe requires you to cut your butter into thin little slices, dump it into your bowl of dry ingredients, and then smoosh the butter into flat little flakes - this is critical to help create the flaky texture. This isn't hard, but it isn't going to happen quickly; it took me about 15 minutes just to get an entire stick of butter smooshed and flaked. It looked like this when it was done:



While I was smooshing, I was contemplating the fact that if you had a spare 15 minutes on a Thursday night, you could dump your butter in a bowl of plain flour, get it flaked, put it in a ziploc bag and freeze it for Saturday morning, and at that point biscuit prep would be a breeze.

The gravy, again, is a basic, base recipe. Some people like to add worcestershire sauce to their gravy, but I don't, I think that adulterates an otherwise beautiful thing. I use sage-flavored sausage; you might use italian or hot. Adjust the seasonings to accomodate your crowd. Add onions if the mood strikes you. Isn't cooking wonderful?

I didn't take a picture of the gravy because, well - while sausage gravy tastes fabulous, it looks... less than fabulous. So you're just going to have to take my word for it.

Sausage Gravy

1 lb. good quality bulk sausage
2 -3 T. bacon drippings or butter
6 T. flour
1 quart cold milk
salt
pepper
Tabasco sauce

Using a large shallow pan (12 inch skillet or electric skillet, for instance), brown sausage over medium high heat, breaking up into small bits. Add bacon grease or butter and allow to melt. Sprinkle flour over sausage, and stir until flour is slightly colored, 2-3 minutes. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly. Stir until gravy is thickened and bubbling, and then continue cooking for about another 5 minutes until gravy is slightly reduced and thickened. Remove from heat and add seasoning to taste. Let cool slightly (it will continue to thicken as it cools) and serve over biscuits.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

French Pear Tart (Tuesdays with Dorie)

Okay, so I'm brand new to this food blogging thing. I haven't figured out the timing of cooking something, getting a photo in good lighting and still serving it to the family while it's hot. I haven't even begun to have all the techno-HTML-whizbang stuff figured out. The photography? Yeah, it pretty much sucks at this point.

But!

I got to join the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group. And I'm just nerdy (and pathetic) enough that I am totally geeked about this, in a "squee! I'm sitting at the cool kids' table!" kind of way. I told you it was pathetic.

I went out and bought the book. And then I marked all the recipes that TWD has already done, so I know what I can bake with impunity.



Raising the "Needs a Life" bar to "Deserves Her Own Telethon" level.

But seriously, this week's recipe for French Pear Tart was lovely. In honor of TWD's one-year anniversary, it was chosen by Dorie herself, and you can find it at her website, or in her book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.


One of the terrific things about this recipe is that it's made of several different components (poached pears, almond cream and a shortbread crust) which are all made separately, and can all be made ahead, which is very convenient. It doesn't take much time to assemble the tart once you are ready to do so, nor is it difficult. And as I said, the results are lovely.



The almond cream was our favorite part. It baked to a slightly sticky-chewy texture, and reminded us of my mother-in-law's banket, a traditional Dutch Christmas pastry much beloved by all in our family, especially my two teenaged sons.

Needless to say, the tart did not last long at our house. And I am already thinking about all the different fruits that I could use the next time I try this... apple? Plum? Would it be crazy to try it with berries?

Anyway, thank you Dorie, for choosing such a lovely dessert, and inspiring such a cool group. I can't wait to see what year two of TWD brings!

(To see all the other beautiful tarts out there, check out the Tuesdays with Dorie blogroll. It's a feast for the eyes!)

Monday, January 5, 2009

sesame orange chicken




Okay, so maybe you recently got up the courage to look at your 401K balance. And, after much weeping and gnashing of teeth, you decided that unless you wanted to spend your twilight years as a greeter at your neighborhood discount retailer, you had better make some fiscal sacrifices. Meaning no more take out.

Fear not!

Leaping to your rescue (because that's the kind of stuff I do), I bring you Sesame Orange Chicken. Granted, it doesn't have that whole crispy batter-fried thing going on like take out chicken does, but you made a New Year's resolution to stop eating that kind of stuff anyhow, didn't you? Thought so. Otherwise, it tastes a lot like the chicken at your local strip mall chinese place; sweet, tangy, a little spice kick, great over sticky rice. It also functions well as a base recipe to tweak and add other stuff - garlic, scallions, broccoli, or whatever leftovers your newfound frugality can find lurking in the veggie drawer of the fridge.

Sesame Orange Chicken

1 1/4 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch wide strips
1 T. sesame oil (or other cooking oil)
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup orange juice
2 T soy sauce
1 T. cornstarch
1 t. ginger
1 t. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 T. toasted sesame seeds

Saute chicken strips in oil until no longer pink. Cook in batches if necessary to avoid crowding in the pan. Whisk honey, orange juice, soy sauce, cornstarch, ginger and red pepper flakes until no lumps remain. Pour into skillet with chicken and cook until thickened. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through (about 8 -10 minutes, depending on the size of your strips). Cover if necessary to keep sauce from becoming too thick and burning. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve over rice.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

brie en croute with dried cherries, toasted pecans and rosemary



Yesterday my friend posted this recipe to her facebook page. I read it and immediately thought, "Well, yep! Now I know what I'm bringing to the family party tonight!" I scrapped the "pick-up-some-crab-spread-at-Costco" plan and immediately dashed to the store for brie and puff pastry.

It was a huge hit at the party - some of us were, erm, almost too full for dinner after noshing on appetizers. We brought home the leftovers and I am happily nibbling at them for lunch. Brie and crackers for lunch - so refined!

When I make this again (and I will make it again), I will add more rosemary, because it got kind of lost among all the other flavors, but when I did get a hint of it, it added to the flavor depth immeasurably.


Brie en Croute with Dried Cherries, Toasted Pecans and Rosemary


1/2 of a 17.3 oz package of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry sheets (1 sheet)
1 egg
1 T water
1/3 cup dried cherries, softened*
1/4 cup chopped, toasted pecans
1/4 cup honey
1/2 t. chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 13.2 oz brie round

(*to soften cherries, mix dried cherries and 1/2 cup hot water in a small bowl and let stand for one minute. Drain and pat cherries dry.)

Thaw the pastry sheet at room temperature for 40 minutes or until it's easy to handle. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Beat the egg and water in a small bowl with a fork.

Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll the pastry sheet into a 14" square. Stir the cherries, pecans, honey and rosemary in a small bowl. Spread the cherry mixture into the center of the pastry square. Top with the cheese round. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg mixture. Fold two opposite sides of the pastry over the cheese. Trim the remaining two sides of the pastry square to 2" from the edge of the cheese. Fold the sides up onto the cheese and press the edges to seal. Place the pastry-wrapped cheese seam side down onto a baking sheet. Brush the pastry with the egg mixture.

Decorate the top with pastry scraps or additional rosemary, if desired. Brush the pastry with the egg mixture.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the pastry is deep golden brown. Let stand for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve with crackers.

Friday, January 2, 2009

cherry almond granola




In the spirit of the New Year, I was thinking about flexibility. Mostly about how I am not, currently, feeling very flexible, and how I had better get these winter bones back into a fitness routine. I'm no spring chicken, but I'm not old enough to be feeling quite this creaky.

I love the flexibility of granola, too. It's a perfect winter breakfast served with hot milk or sprinkled over a steaming bowl of oatmeal. But it's also great in the summertime, served with fresh cool yogurt, a bowl of just-picked berries, or even some homemade vanilla ice cream. Mmmm.

And of course, you can always just scoop handfuls out of the bowl and eat it plain. Not that I've been doing that this afternoon, or anything.

Cherry Almond Granola

4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter (salted is fine)
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup dried cherries

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter a half sheet pan (or jelly roll pan). Mix oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl.

Combine butter, honey and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Pour over oat mixture and stir until well combined. Spread granola on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool WITHOUT STIRRING. Once granola has cooled, break into chunks and mix in cherries.


Another beautiful thing about granola's flexibility is that it doesn't mind being adapted. Don't like cherries? Feel free to add raisins or dried apricots or whatever your heart desires. Almonds make you crazy? Well, go ahead and leave 'em out. Or substitute pecans or pistachios instead. I won't think any less of you. Think of this recipe as your blank canvas, and swap in or out as much as you'd like. You'll end up with your own personalized granola. And isn't that what flexibility is all about?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

the obligatory first post

First posts tend to fall into one of several categories. Some are conversational, some are self-conscious (does the world really need another blog?), and some people avoid the problem altogether by skipping the introductions and diving right in.

So where does this post fit?

I suppose it's a hybrid - conversationally self-conscious. Aware that a myriad of food blogs already exist, I nonetheless decided to join the party. I love reading food bloggers, love being in the kitchen, and love to write. Or at least like to write. Given the choice between writing and baking brownies, the brownies win hands down, but given the choice between writing and, say, mopping the bathroom floor, I'd prefer my keyboard.

I started cooking alongside my mom pretty early on, and was baking on my own by the time I was 11. I'm a comfort food girl, I love to feed my family and I can't ever remember NOT loving to bake, though my skills could certainly use a lot of honing. That's my goal for 2009 - take a quarter-century plus (dear God...) of making chocolate chip cookies and chili and homemade mac and cheese, and work on improving my skill, techniques and repertoire. (But I'm still pretty much a comfort food girl - you can keep your escargot arugula cupcake, thankyouverymuch.)

I'm excited for the challenge, and am looking forward to joining the conversation in the food blogging community. Hey, it keeps me from having to mop the bathroom floor.