Sunday, June 24, 2012

-flour + (chocolate x 2) + pecans

This is a picture of the one normal-looking cookie that came out of a batch of flourless double-chocolate pecan cookies I baked today.

The others either crumbled to pieces because I tried prying them from the baking sheet too early or spread to enormous proportions and grew corners until they resembled Midwestern states. Like this:

Pictured with a coaster to show their overgrown size.

No big deal. The cookies — all of which are now in pieces because they were too big to fit into a lidded container — taste just fine. I'm not sure what factor kept my batter so thin and caused the cookies to sprawl; it certainly wasn't as scoopable as it appeared in the Everyday Food video that persuaded me to bake these cookies. Could be the heat, of course. It's what I'm blaming for all my woes of late, especially missing a Jonathan Richman concert on Friday after getting somewhat dehydrated. I've learned my lesson once and for all that two beers and zero water while eating dinner outside is not the way to go.

Anyway, things are better now that I'm drinking water and eating these cookies. Because they're flourless and the only wet ingredient is egg whites, they bear a bit of that shiny, crackly look that signals a delicate, macaron-like chew. It's possible that the chocolate is supposed to melt throughout the cookie — more likely if you chop your chocolate instead of using lazy chips like I did — but I have no problem with pockets of chocolate instead.

Looking lacy.

Flourless double-chocolate pecan cookies
Makes 12

3 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (spooned and leveled)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (or other type of nut)
4 large egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cocoa, and salt. Stir in chocolate and pecans. Add egg whites and stir just until incorporated (do not overmix).

Drop dough by 1/4 cupfuls, 3 inches apart, onto two parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets. Bake until cookie tops are dry and crackled, about 25 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool completely. (To store, keep in an airtight container, up to 3 days.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

almond butter is a food group, right?

It's really easy for me to fall into the rut of quesadillas for lunch. I come home from work, flick the burner under the comal to high heat and let it go for a minute while I put down my purse and get out the tortillas and cheese. I search the DVR for a cooking show or last night's "Daily Show," then turn the heat to medium and get the tortillas going.

If I have guacamole, this is a fairly awesome lunch. But that counts only technically as eating something green. As much as I like quesadillas
or Mexican pizzas, as Miguel's older sister called them when they were kids to trick him into eating them as an after-school snack I soon start feeling like I should have had broccoli.

So when a Whole Foods email showed up just after I'd eaten a lunch of carbs + melted cheese and featured a recipe for broccoli salad with almond and chile dressing
, I wrote down a grocery list and made it that night. Because I was cooking only for myself and my logic didn't go much further than "Hey, at least it's not another quesadilla" I didn't follow the recipe to the letter. Mung bean sprouts weren't available (because of a recent recall, an H-E-B stocker told me), so I tossed everything together with soba noodles. For me, it's hard to go wrong with any combo of nut butter, crisp vegetables and soba. I also let the broccoli marinate in the dressing for only about as long as it took to snap that photo up there. Who can marinate when there's eating to do?

Broccoli salad with almond and chile dressing
Serves 6 to 8

1/2 cup almond butter
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Tbsp. chopped pitted dates, raisins or prunes
Tbsp. chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. sea salt or 1 Tbsp. reduced-sodium tamari
1/2 small serrano pepper, finely chopped (optional)
1/3 cup water
2 heads broccoli, cut into florets and lightly steamed
1/3 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
1 1/2 cups mung bean sprouts

In a blender or food processor, purée almond butter, lemon juice, dates, ginger, garlic, salt, pepper and water until smooth. Transfer dressing to a large bowl, add broccoli and cilantro and toss well. Cover and marinate for up to 1 hour, if you like. (Or just include some cooked soba in the tossing step, skip the marinating and the following step and just grab a fork!) Arrange bean sprouts on a large platter, top with broccoli, garnish with cilantro and serve. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

a tasty memoir

On a whim last week, I picked up a small hardback at the library called "Mrs. Blackwell's Heart-of-Texas Cookbook: A Tasty Memoir of the Depression." Two minutes in, I was wholly charmed.

While only a bit of narrative (co-authored by two sisters) links a slew of resourceful farmhouse recipes for all kinds of biscuits, potato dishes and gravies, it reads pretty much as if Laura Ingalls Wilder had been bumped forward about half a century and relocated to a part of East Texas where Corsicana was considered the big city. The book is the sisters' compilation of the recipes their mother used to feed their family of 11 day in and day out, and her secret seems to lie in leaving nothing behind. With the right treatment on the stove, Mrs. Blackwell seems to have found, any old scrap can nourish — as well as earn its place in lore. John Henry Faulk, the famed Texas storyteller, opens the book with the once-widespread belief that fried chicken gizzards "had magical powers: they made boys good-looking and girls' bosoms grow spacious."

Naturally, the section on holiday turkey starts with, "First, catch the turkey."

The 1930s quaintness continues:

• A caramel dessert is listed as "Burnt Sugar Pie."
• In harder times, brownies were a great luxury with only a quarter of the chocolate in my favorite supernatural brownies recipe.
• Dessert recipes call for vanilla, cinnamon, the usual. But these were available to Depression-era families only by way of a door-to-door condiment salesman.

Also, some recipes depend not on the calibration of your oven, but the reliable heat of Texas in August. Instructions for drying peaches or apples begin this way: "Select a place on the tin roof of a barn, smokehouse, or any building which is leeward to the outhouse." At the end of the summer, this should take 10 to 14 days. And make sure to account for any rain or heavy dew.

I put one super-simple recipe to the test and baked cookies that turned out thin but chewy and not much to look at but tasty, as the memoir's title suggests. Mrs. Blackwell's Scotch cookies seemed like the sort of plain tea snack Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle would have referred to as a "cooky," a spelling that I used to think referred to something entirely different from the Oreos and Tollhouse cookies I knew.

I think she must have meant something like this. Sometimes quaint is quite nice.

Scotch cookies

1/2 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Cream butter and sugar. Stir in eggs, then dry ingredients. Drop on greased cookie sheet and bake in moderate oven (I took this to mean 350 degrees) for 8 to 10 minutes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

the basil makes it

About 7 p.m. on Valentine's Day, my neighborhood grocery store was nowhere near empty of metallic red balloons, chocolate-dipped strawberries or cordate (thanks, V-day-themed Word Of The Day) boxes of candy. But the two rows that usually hold fresh basil were totally barren. So Miguel stopped by Whole Foods on his way home to grab the ingredient that tops and simply makes a dinner of skillet lasagna, probably our kitchen's most-repeated recipe. That store was out of basil too, so I called Farm to Market down the street, and they (again) saved the day.

The message here, if Feb. 14 grocery store shoppers are indeed onto something: ladies don't care about the stuff that'll get thrown out tomorrow. Cook us some Italian food!

A few years ago, I tore a page out of Cook's Country magazine with a recipe for skillet lasagna, and it's held with a magnet on the side of our refrigerator next to postcards from friends' travels to Puerto Rico, upstate New York and a national park in Utah. While it's not the most perfect-looking specimen (I leave that to Deb, my guru of precision and sharp corners), it's comforting and homey and takes under an hour to make — a feat when it comes to homemade lasagna. That means it tastes like something special, but you don't have to wait for a special day to make it.

For dessert, I made Food52's latest genius recipe, which takes only two ingredients and lots of science. Hervé This' water+chocolate+stirring=chocolate mousse recipe took about 10 minutes but produced a treat of the fanciest, shmanciest kind. It's as superlative as the genius title promises, but I'd add two bits of warning. 1) Wear an apron and not your favorite pale gray, easily spattered button-down shirt. 2) The line that says "This all happens fast as the mixture cools" means that the transition from a batter-like consistency to mousse is sudden, not fast in the sense that the whole process takes only a few turns of the whisk. Psyche yourself up to really use your biceps for a few minutes. It's worth it.

Skillet lasagna
from Cook's Country magazine
serves 4 to 6

one 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 pound meatloaf mix (I always use ground beef)
10 curly-edged lasagna noodles, broken into 2-inch lengths
one 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
several basil leaves, torn

Pour tomatoes with their juices into 1-quart liquid measuring cup. Add water until mixture measures 1 quart.

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and 1/2 tsp. salt and cook until onion begins to brown, about five minutes. Stir in garlic and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add ground meat and cook, breaking apart meat, until no longer pink, about four minutes.

Scatter pasta over meat but do not stir. Pour diced tomatoes with juices and tomato sauce over pasta. Cover and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove skillet from heat and stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Dot with heaping tablespoons ricotta, cover and let stand off heat for five minutes. Sprinkle with basil and remaining 2 Tbsp. Parmesan.

Hervé This' chocolate mousse
Serves 4

3/4 cup (6 ounces) water
8 ounces chocolate (pick one toward the bittersweet end of the cocoa spectrum)
ice cubes

Simply pour water into a saucepan. Then, over medium-low heat, whisk in the chocolate. The result is a homogenous sauce.

Put the saucepan in a bowl partly filled with ice cubes (or pour into another bowl over the ice
it will chill faster), then whisk the chocolate sauce, either manually with a whisk or with an electric mixer (if using an electric mixer, watch closely it will thicken faster). Whisking creates large air bubbles in the sauce, which steadily thickens. After a while strands of chocolate form inside the loops of the whisk. Pour or spoon immediately into ramekins, small bowls or jars and let set.

Note: Three things can go wrong. Here's how to fix them. If your chocolate doesn't contain enough fat, melt the mixture again, add some chocolate, and then whisk it again. If the mousse is not light enough, melt the mixture again, add some water, and whisk it once more. If you whisk it too much, so that it becomes grainy, this means that the foam has turned into an emulsion. In that case simply melt the mixture and whisk it again, adding nothing.

Serve immediately, or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream if desired. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

biscuits for breakfast

And now for the exact opposite of my last post: a homemade version of a handheld breakfast you might get at Whataburger. I'm about to use the word "grease" a lot.

Did you know that breakfast sandwiches made of biscuits, bacon, egg and cheese can enter your life through means not involving a drive-thru window? I had no idea until a hot dog restaurant called Frank showed me the light and gave me the idea for making a from-scratch version at home. So that's what Miguel and I did Christmas morning after picking up coffee from our new favorite coffee shop and bringing it home to drink while cooking and checking out our presents. (Like tickets to see The Lemonheads!)

This breakfast worked well as a two-person endeavor. I made the biscuit dough and refrigerated it before we left, then shaped and baked the biscuits while also overseeing the bacon. Meanwhile, Miguel handled the over-easy eggs. A major part of making this a super easy undertaking for a holiday morning was this secret: baking the bacon! After trying that method, there's no reason to go back to watching over grease sputtering from a frying pan and threatening to burn me. More than that, it turns out perfectly: not crinkled and shrunken, not overly browned and dry.

Buttermilk Biscuits
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes three really big biscuits

1.5 cups all purpose flour

1/2 tsp sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

6 Tbsp. chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425°F. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Using fingertips, rub butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk and stir until evenly moistened. At this point, you can wrap the dough in plastic and put it in the refrigerator until you're ready to bake. Drop biscuits onto baking sheet in whatever size you want, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until biscuits are golden brown on top, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm.

Baked bacon
From The Kitchn

Use a rimmed baking sheet to catch the grease and line it with aluminum foil. Put your oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 375°. Lay the bacon strips out flat on the baking sheet, leaving space so they don't overlap. Pop the bacon in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. If it's thick bacon that produces a lot of grease, drain the grease halfway through. When the larger grease bubbles subside and smaller bubbles appear on the bacon, you know it's done. If the bacon is already firm in the oven then it's cooked too long. Bacon firms up as it cools, generally. Drain the bacon on a plate lined with paper towels.

Non-fast-food breakfast sandwiches

Freshly baked buttermilk biscuits, sliced in half
Thick slices of Cheddar cheese
Baked bacon
Over-easy eggs
Salt and pepper for eggs

Stack 'em up!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

so choice

It's Jan. 1, and I'm posting a vegan recipe, but I promise this is no cliche post-holiday diet thing. That would be impossible because I'm plowing through my traditional chocolate-covered cherries and various cookie Christmas gifts and showing no signs of slowing down. This recipe choice is about my deep love of peanut butter and my discovery of a blog written with a terrific voice, pleasing pictures and — come on! — sensational videos. It's Bon Appetempt, and I've been spending all of my spare moments reading through the archives.

I love that this blogger, Amelia, so strictly recreates highly styled photos from food glossies — check out these props! — but that her writing style is so loose and easygoing. I believe I'd like to eat lunch with her. Almond tofu (peanut in my case) with snap peas and soba noodles is the first recipe I've tried from Bon Appetempt, and from here on out baking tofu with sauce to imbue it with flavor is my preferred method. It's the first time I've made tofu that's not just an extra flavorless texture in a dish/not incredibly oily from failed frying. Let me tell you, it is so choice.

In the spirit of the source of inspiration... Bon Appetempt's version:

My version:

It wasn't until I went back to Bon Appetempt just now to fetch that tofu/soba photo that I realized how different my version looks, and not just because I added some carrots on top. Looks like I used a lot more snap peas and a lot fewer soba noodles. So Amelia's definitely the winner when it comes to replicating photos. But it's not the proportion of vegetables and noodles that matters most here — this peanut butter-maple syrup-sesame oil sauce could go on nearly anything, and you'd happily call it dinner.

Peanut Tofu with Snap Peas and Soba Noodles
Adapted from Lucid Food via Bon Appetempt

14 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
6 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon sesame oil, plus more as needed
5 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the baking sheet
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups snow or snap peas, ends trimmed and halved
8 ounces soba noodles
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 carrot, peeled then thinly shaved with a vegetable peeler

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Lay the tofu slices on a well-oiled baking sheet and season with salt. [Alternately, this is a great time to use a silicon baking mat.]

Combine the peanut butter, soy sauce, maple syrup and sesame oil and whisk until smooth. Rub 1/2 teaspoon of the almond butter mixture on each piece. Try not to get the sauce on the pan. Bake for 25 minutes. Flip the pieces and season lightly with salt. Rub the second side of each tofu slice with 1/2 teaspoon of the peanut butter mixture, reserving the extra. Bake for 25 minutes more. Let cool.

Slice the tofu lengthwise into strips. Heat a saute pan over high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the scallions, cook for 1 minute and add the tofu and ginger. After a minute, add the garlic and 1/2 cup water and stir well while cooking. Spoon in the remaining peanut butter mixture and stir well to combine. Cover.

Put the peas in a colander in the sink. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and return to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, for 6 minutes, until the noodles are just cooked through. Pour the noodles on top of the peas in the colander and drain out the water. Immediately pour the noodles and peas back into the pot. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and toss to prevent the noodles from sticking. Stir in the tofu, rice vinegar, cilantro, slivers of carrot and salt to taste.

Serve immediately — with Sriracha if you're bolder than me.

Friday, December 23, 2011

if you know me, you'll be seeing these soon

Some years, I've gone a little nuts when it comes to making cookie tins for Christmas. Others, I take it a little easier. This year, I'm in that second frame of mind.

You see, I've realized you don't need an entire parade of tree-shaped, red-and-white-striped, bedecked holiday cookies to make a good gift — just one or two really great recipes. For me in 2011, that means chocolate crinkles and pains d'amande. Believe me, they're good. I gave some of each to my two office mates this morning and soon heard an "Oh, girl" come from across the room.

The crinkles strike me as such a classic Christmas cookie. They're snow-capped, dramatic in color contrast and abstract in design — each one comes out of the oven with a unique form. And they taste dreamy. The dough is exactly like fudge, so you can imagine how they bake up. I made double batches twice within the past week, both times with help from my buddy Alex, who somehow always got stuck with the most physically demanding part: stirring the dry ingredients into the wet. (Sadly for her, the recipe says to refrigerate the dough for at least three hours or overnight. So both times she's helped, it's gotten too late to start baking. I think I owe her a batch.) (By the way, as an editor, I think in most cases it's so useless to put things in parentheses. They're so Ann M. Martin. But I can't give them up.) (P.S. That reminds me, this deserves its own parenthetical home.)

Before baking.

After baking. I'm pretty fascinated with the crackling.

When I last made powdered sugar-covered cookies, I followed the instructions and took forever rolling each ball of dough in a shallow dish until it was covered in white. This time I wised up and poured the sugar into a largish plastic bag, then added the cookie dough and shook the bag around. It takes two seconds! This is when I learned there is no such thing as too much powdered sugar. What sticks with this method looks like an overwhelming amount, so I brushed some back into the bag. I was afraid of biting into a cookie and getting a repeat of what happened once when a gust of wind blew a funnel cake onto me at Westfest. The top cookie here shows why you shouldn't do that:

It seems some of the powdered sugar soaks into the dough as it bakes. Don't worry about adding too much. A lot = just right.

As for the pains d'amande, I don't know what I was expecting with these. I sort of just took Food 52's "genius recipe" title at its word, and that was not a bad move. They're biscotti-like and the kind of thing I think my parents will enjoy having with their morning coffee when they get to the point of being overloaded with desserts and candy as gifts, which happens to them every Christmas because they are some of the most popular people I know. Another reason for the overload is that my parents give a box of chocolate-covered cherries to each family member as part of a tradition that started in lean years when buying presents for everyone was a tall order. But the thing is, not everyone likes chocolate-covered cherries, so they (and I) end up with the extra boxes. All that to say: these thin almond cookies are subtle but not ordinary.

They taste like very thin biscotti.

To make sure the pains d'amande were tasty enough to wrap up and give away, I took the advice of some commenters and added splashes of vanilla and almond extracts, and it paid off. The cookies look fairly plain, but a bite tastes just enough of cinnamon, vanilla and almond. Another tip for making these: have a friend over. Step 2 says to wait 30 minutes while the butter and sugar cools, and there are no other steps to do in the meantime. This is a good chance to lean against a counter and talk about college and boyfriends and Ryan Gosling and Big Freedia.

Merry Christmas, folks!

Chocolate crinkles
By way of Bakin' Love
Makes about three dozen cookies

8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup chopped pecans
Powdered sugar

In a glass bowl set over a small pot with just a bit of water, melt the chocolate and butter together over medium heat.

Beat the eggs and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla. Add chocolate mixture.

Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add to chocolate mixture. Cover and refrigerate three to four hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and fill a shallow bowl with powdered sugar. Make 1 1/2 inch rounds with the dough and roll them in the powdered sugar until they are completely coated. Place the balls of dough on the baking sheet about 1.5 inches apart.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the edges are firm but the centers are still soft. Cool on wire rack.

Flo Braker's Pains D'Amande
From Sweet Miniatures by Flo Braker
Makes about 7 dozen cookies

2 1/3 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into quarters
1 1/3 cups turbinado or raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup water
3 ounces (1 cup) sliced almonds

Sift the flour and baking soda onto a sheet of waxed paper; set aside.

In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan over low heat, combine the butter, sugar, cinnamon and water. Stir occasionally just until the butter melts. Do not allow the mixture to boil. David Lebovitz recommends not letting the sugar melt thoroughly — the crunchy bits make for wonderful texture in the cookie. (Beth note: That sounds great, but I'm not sure how you'd keep the sugar from melting unless you add it last.) Remove from heat and stir in the almonds. Pour this mixture into a 3-quart mixing bowl; set aside for about 30 minutes at room temperature until lukewarm, about 90 degrees F.

Add the dry ingredients all at once; stir thoroughly until blended.

Press the soft dough into an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch pan, preferably straight-sided (such as a 1 1/2 quart Pyrex loaf pan) lined with plastic wrap. Cover surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until firm.

Adjust rack to lower third of oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line two large cool baking sheets with parchment paper.

Lift out the firm dough from the pan onto a cutting board. Slice as thinly as you can from the shorter end, aiming for about 1/8 of an inch. Space them 1/4 inch apart on the baking sheets. (The dough slices as though it were fudge.)

Bake, one sheet at a time, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the undersides are light golden; then turn cookies over and bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes, or until crisp and honey-colored. Place baking sheet on a wire rack to cool. Lift cookies from parchment when cool.
Stack cookies in an airtight container and store at room temperature up to 10 days.