Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Scandopolitan

There are some dishes you prepare because they are ridiculously delicious. And others because they are just too pretty for words. And others, like the scandopolitan, because they are just too much fun to say. Seriously. I can't stop. Luckily, this aquavit-based cocktail is delicious as well, in addition to being Christmas-bright, and a good way to use up any leftover schnapps.

Aquavit is definitely something of an acquired taste. It's the traditional booze of Scandinavia, flavored with a variety of spices. The particular combination varies by distillery, but caraway is usually front and center. In my rigid view of the food pantheon, caraway seeds have one acceptable place: rye bread. And the occasional loaf of Irish soda bread. But that's pretty much it. Certainly not in my beverage. And I don't think I'm alone in this view. Aquavit can be a hard beverage to like, especially straight up, as it's traditionally enjoyed. A few years ago we bought a bottle to celebrate the summer solstice. Come winter, it was still lurking about in the back of our liquor cabinet. Which led to the development of the Scandipolitan.

The basic template for the cocktail, as the name suggests, is shamelessly borrowed from the Cosmopolitan. If you want to go for a full-on Scandinavian theme, you can mix the aquavit with lingonberry juice, made from the cold-climate berries that grow there. But if you'd prefer to be a bit more domestic, cranberry juice makes a fine substitute. The remaining ingredients of lime, Triple Sec and seltzer temper the fusty edge of caraway, easing it into a sweet context (much like the aforementioned Irish soda bread). It takes aquavit from something to be thrown back (followed, in my case, by an involuntary full-body shudder) to a drink to be savored. I'm still trying to figure out the perfect garnish, since sprigs of lingonberries aren't readily available. A twist of liquorice? A few sprays of fresh dill? Skewers of herring? I'm open to ideas. Skål!

The Scandopolitan

yields two drinks

feel free to adjust the proportions of sweet Triple Sec (or orange liqueur of your choice) and lime to suit your tastes, and the sweetness and tang of the juice used

2 shots aquavit
2 shots lingonberry juice concentrate (or unsweetened cranberry juice)
1 shot triple sec
juice of 1/2 lime

Pour the aquavit, lingonberry juice, triple sec and lime into a shaker with a few cube of ice, and shake until chilled and well combined. Pour over ice into a cocktail glass, with a lollipop (sugared) rim if you like. Top with a bit of seltzer, stir, and enjoy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Time can be one of your best friends when cooking. A few hours of a hands-off simmer can turn a pot of vegetables and water into a deeply flavorful soup. And an overnight slow rise can turn out loaves of home-cooked bread that can hold their own against your local artisan boulangerie. And it turns out that the same holds true for sweets. Last year, The New York Times ran an article profiling what they deemed the definitive chocolate chip cookie recipe, which the blogosphere resoundingly endorsed. The recipe seems pretty standard, with the usual players of creamed butter, brown and white sugars, flour, leavening, vanilla and chocolate. But then it instructs you to set your batter back in the refrigerator. For a full day. Or even two. The resulting cookies sport a caramel-like sophistication, handily beating out their less-mature brethren in taste tests.

Now, I'm all for richly complex baked goods. But sometimes time isn't on your side. Sometimes you want to whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies to share with your friends who are about to board a plane (and to console yourself after their departure). But yet you still crave toffee-like layers of flavor, a step above the standard wan Tollhouse variety. At times like these, there's brown butter.

Brown butter, or beurre noisette if you're feeling French, is simply butter that's been heated until the milk solids separate out and darken. The French name translates to "hazelnut butter," which aptly describes the toasty, nutty flavor that this process imparts. It's your quickest shortcut to the deep, complex flavors that usually take hours to develop. Yes, there's a small bit of fuss. You've got to swirl the pan a bit as the butter melts, to ensure even heating, and make sure to use a light colored pot so that you can see the butter darkening, and don't miss the brief window before it becomes bitterly burnt. But isn't that easier than twiddling your thumbs for several days, while delicious cookie dough calls to you from the refrigerator with its siren song?

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

adapted from Cook's Illustrated's Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
yields 16-24 cookies, depending on the size

1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 packed brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees.

Sift together flour and baking soda, set aside.

Place 10 tablespoons butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or skillet. Heat over medium-high until the butter melts. Continue to cook until the butter is a deep golden brown, swirling the pan constantly (~1-3 minutes). Pour thebrown butter into a large bowl, and immediately add the remaining 4 tablespoons of reserved butter. Let sit, swirling occasionally, until the remaining butter has melted.

When all the butter has melted, add the sugars, salt and vanilla to the bowl, and whisk to combine. Add the egg and egg yolk. Whisk until the mixture is smooth, ~30 seconds, and then let sit for 3 minutes. Repeat the whisking and resting two more times. The sugars will begin to dissolve, and the mixture will become thicker, shiny and lighter in color.

Stir in the flour mixture until just combined, and fold in the chocolate chips. Scoop balls of dough onto a prepared cookie sheet, using 2-3 tablespoons of dough (depending on how large you like your cookies). Bake, one sheet at a time, until the edges are beginning to get golden, but the centers are still puffy and soft (8-14 minutes, depending on cookie size and oven temperature).
Cool on a rack.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Marmitako (Basque Potato Tuna Soup)

The words "summer soup" conjure up different pictures in different parts of the world. In some places, it's a chilled and dilled borscht. In others, a cooling, smoothie-like mix of fruit and dairy. And in the Basque Country, it is a simmering stew of potatoes and tuna.

Okay, I know this sounds like the last thing you'd want on a hot day. But the timing makes some bit of sense: summer brings the new potato harvest, as well as the annual tuna run. Even so, it's not quite what I look for on a sunny afternoon. But on chilly winter nights, like the ones we've been having recently, it's perfect.

Every coastal region seems to have its own version of fish stew, from a rustic chowder to a layered boulliabaisse. Marmitako is on the surface a simple soup, but has a surprisingly satisfying depth. The aromatics and potatoes are cooked together for well over an hour to develop the flavors, and the tuna is stirred in at the end to add a briny note without becoming overcooked.

Marmitako was traditionally made right on the tuna boats themselves, simmering the day's catch with potatoes that had been brought on board. It can take many forms, some using dried peppers, others with onions or tomatoes. This particular version was adapted by my friend Iñaki, who's been schooling me in Basque cuisine for the past few months. He's sadly heading back home next week, and shared this recipe during our final cooking session. It's a hell of a parting gift.


as adapted by Iñaki Guridi

yields one large pot

As with the Basque soup porrusalda, the potatoes aren't cut with a knife, but broken into rough-edged pieces that release more starch to thicken the soup. To do this, slide a paring knife halfway through a peeled potato, about 1.5" down. Press the potato between your thumb and the knife, and twist to free a chunk roughly 1.5" square. Repeat until the whole potato is reduced to rough chunks.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 red pepper, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
6 medium (or 4 large) waxy red or yellow potatoes, peeled and broken into chunks (see above)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 lb fresh tuna (albacore, if possible), cut into 1" cubes
salt and pepper

Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the pepper, garlic and potatoes, and saute for several minutes, until the pepper and garlic have softened. Add the tomato paste, and enough water to cover everything by about 2". Season with salt, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for at least an hour and a half, until quite tender and flavorful.

When the soup is about 20 minutes from being done, heat the remaining tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tuna, season liberally with salt, and saute for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until firm but not fully cooked. Add the cubes to the soup pot, and simmer gently for another 15 minutes to meld the flavors.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Many recipes from our grandparents' generation are pretty cryptic when it comes to instructions. Unlike today's blogs and cookbooks, with their blow-by-blow pictorials, older recipes often give just the basics. My grandmother's typewritten index card for potato pancakes tells you to "fry in a lot of grease quickly." Others don't even provide that much detail -- just a list of ingredients. Because that was all you needed. Cooking used to be an oral tradition, learned from members of your family. You knew how to handle fat and flour, and when to take something out of the oven.

Unfortunately, there seems to have been a breakdown in the system, sometime around the 1950s. Take these ruggelach as an example. They're a delicate cookie from Eastern Europe, popular among Ashkenazi Jews. My mother's recipe features a “potchke” of jam, nuts and cinnamon rolled up in rich sour cream dough. And since the advent of the food processor, she's made this dough by blitzing the ingredients into a homogenized mass. The cookies had a lovely flavor, from the sweet filling and rich sour cream, but the dough had all the delicacy of a day-old breadstick.

On my first rugelach-making session, I approached the dough with knowledge gleaned from obsessive cookbook-reading and pie-baking sessions. I pulsed the dries, cut in the butter, and gently mixed in the sour cream until it just held together. My mother steadfastly refused to believe that my light, flaky cookies were made from the same recipe. This is not an exaggeration. I never got the admiration my transformed ruggelach so rightly deserved. But at least I have delicious cookies to console me.


adapted from a family recipe

yields 64 small cookies

Since I first posted this recipe, I've since changed my technique, brushing the rolled rugelach with an egg wash, and then sprinkling them additional cinnamon-sugar. Either way is delicious.

3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 lb cold butter, cut into tablespoon-sized cubes
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla

1 1/3 cups apricot jam
1 1/3 cups finely-chopped walnuts
1/4 cup cinnamon-sugar (1/4 cup sugar mixed with 2-3 tsp cinnamon)

In a bowl or a food processor, mix together the flour, salt and sugar until combined. Add the butter, and pulse in the food processor or cut with a pastry cutter (or two knives) until it is reduced to bits that are about half the size of a pea. If using a food processor, dump the contents into a bowl at this point. Stir the vanilla into the sour cream. Using a spoon, and then your hands when needed, knead the sour cream and vanilla into the flour mixture until it is well incorporated, and the dough holds together when you squeeze it. Stop as soon as this is possible — do not over-mix. Shape the dough into four chubby disks, cover with plastic and allow to relax in the refrigerator for at least one hour (overnight is fine too).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line two cookie sheets with parchment or liners (very important, as the molten jam tends to solder them to a pan).

Take a disk of dough out of the refrigerator, and place on a floured countertop or pastry mat. Roll out to a 12" circle, trimming off the ends if needed. This dough is much softer than a traditional pastry crust, so you shouldn't need to let it warm up before rolling. Spread 1/3 cup apricot jam over the round of dough, and sprinkle with 1/3 cup nuts and 1 Tbsp cinnamon-sugar. Taking a chef's knife or pizza cutter, divide the dough evenly into 16 wedges. Starting from the wide base of each wedge, roll towards the center to form a crescent. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or silicone liner, making sure that the tip of the crescent is pinned underneath to prevent the cookie from unrolling. Bake until the filling is bubbling and the crust is just beginning to color, about 30 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool, being careful of the hot jam. Best enjoyed the day they are made (any leftovers are best kept in the freezer).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Swedish Breakfast Sandwich

Swedish food gets an unfairly bad rap. Sure, there are tons of meatballs in cream sauce, and a dearth of vegetables outside of the arctic-friendly root category. And for a reason I never determined, pizza is invariably served with pickled cabbage salad. But there are some great things. Cream-filled buns, scented with saffron or cardamom. Crayfish parties, complete with paper hats, aquavit, and sing-a-longs. And breakfasts.

Breakfast in Sweden is seldom just a bowl of cereal. There might be some hot porridge with a dollop of jam for your sweet tooth, but also a boiled egg with some crispbread for a shot of protein. And while we're at it: herring!

Sweden has nearly 5,000 miles of coastline, so it's not surprising that seafood features heavily into the national diet. It's enjoyed fresh, pickled, smoked, and salted. And, in this case, made into a paste that can be squeezed on top of your open-faced sandwich.

Kalles Kaviar is a product of the Abba company, and ubiquitous in Sweden. Luckily you can find it in American Ikea stores, if you don't have a European import shop nearby. There are a few variations, but the basic Kalles is made from cod roe, with a bit of seasoning and some potatoes to give it body. If you love a bagel with lox, you will love a slice of toast with egg and Kalles. Crisp toast, slightly bland boiled egg, and the salty, fishy paste come together for one of my absolute favorite breakfasts. This recipe is so simple I feel a bit embarrassed posting it. But if I can win one new convert, it will have been worth it.

Swedish Breakfast Sandwich

1 slice toast
1 egg
Kalles Kaviar

Place the egg in a small pot of water, and bring to a boil. When the water is at a full boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit for 10 minutes. Peel the egg, and thinly slice. Layer the slices on the toast, and top with a hefty squeeze of Kalles. Sprinkle with pepper if desired (the Kalles will provide ample salt). Enjoy, to the horror of your non-fish-loving friends.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Floating Islands (Meringues in Custard Sauce)

My grandmother had a rotting old cookbook from the turn of the century, which I used to leaf through when I was visiting. Its recipes were more of a historical tour than a guide for actual cooking. Possum? Aspic salads? Yikes. I spent many hours lost in its pages, but my favorite was the section entitled "Cooking for Invalids." It's a section you'd be hard-pressed to find in a cookbook today. There were nourishing soups, smooth purees, and a horrifying concoction called "beef tea" which involved chunks of raw meat, water, a canning jar, and a water bath lasting several hours. And then there were the custards.

I never much had custards growing up, other than the boxed puddings that took their place for my mother's generation. As the cookbook illustrated, to some people they represent sickbed food, or the slippery sweets of childhood. But for me, they have an elegant simplicity. Floating islands, or ile flottante if you're feeling French, is a lovely grown-up version of this smooth dessert. It features a particularly luscious custard, the barely-thickened creme anglaise. Into this puddle you dollop a meringue, gently poached in milk. You can also add a handful of tart berries if you have them, to cut through the milky sweetness. The islands of meringues can be smoothly shaped, in theory, although mine usually turn out more like jagged glaciers. But it's beside the point -- the meringues are just an excuse to allow you to pour yourself another sea of smooth custard.

Floating Islands

adapted from my friend Emily's grandmother's recipe

serves 6

2 cups milk
6 egg yolks
scant 1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt
1/2 tsp vanilla


2 cups milk
6 egg whites
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt

To make the custard: bring the milk to a boil over medium heat, then turn off the heat and let sit.

In a separate saucepan, beat the egg yolks with the sugar and salt until they thicken and lighten, about 3 minutes. Drizzle the just-boiled milk into the pan in a thin stream to temper the egg yolks, whisking all the while. Once the mixture is well-combined, place the pan over a medium-low flame. Continue to stir with a wooden spoon as it heats, until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon so that it holds the mark if you draw through it with your finger. Remove the pan from the heat as soon as this happens, and pour the custard through a strainer into a waiting bowl. Stir in the vanilla. Refrigerate until chilled (it will continue to thicken).

To make the meringues and assemble the dessert: Bring the milk to a gentle simmer over medium heat.

While the milk is heating, beat the egg whites, gradually adding the salt and sugar, until they form stiff peaks. Drop rough half-cups of the meringue mixture into the simmering milk. You can form jagged islands, or use two spoons to make somewhat smooth ovals. Let the islands simmer for one minute in the hot milk, then gently turn and simmer for another minute on the second side. Using a slotted spoon, remove the islands from the milk and set to drain on a clean plate. Repeat until all of the meringue is poached. The islands will swell dramatically in their simmer bath, and then shrink disappointingly when they're removed. Serve immediately on a puddle of chilled custard, or place in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Turkish Red Lentil Soup

If I needed to describe the lentil soup of my youth in one word, it would probably be brown. Brown lentils, a few aromatics and stewed tomatoes, and just a smattering of vegetables. I've learned to add a bit more interest to the Italian-style lentil soup, stirring in some kale or spinach, and a bit of vinegar at the end to lift the flavors. I still like that brown lentil soup, and make a pot every so often. But this soup, this Turkish-inspired red lentil soup -- I love it. It's made of the still-virtuous-but-less-earthy red lentils, and brightened with some warm spices and a splash of lemon juice. On the days after I have over-indulged (something that certainly happens this time of year), it's a great recovery meal. It's got fiber and vitamin-rich vegetables, and yet it's light and smooth enough to soothe ragged stomaches.

Traditional Turkish red lentil soup can take a variety of forms. Some are simple purees, while others feature sprinklings of mint or dried bulgar. My version contains rice and a handful of spices, with a heaping of carrots to lighten it and give a bit more vegetal taste. The recipe is flexible, and can be easily adapted to your tastes and pantry availability: I've stirred in a few handfuls of spinach or a sprinkling of cilantro at the end (neither terribly traditional, but both delicious), and added extra tomato paste when I didn't have a fresh tomato on hand. Once you try this, you'll want to keep some red lentils on hand to be able to make a pot whenever you like. Especially after Thanksgiving.

Turkish Red Lentil Soup

makes 1 pot

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
pinch cayenne (or more, if you like it spicy)
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tomato, small dice
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1/4 cup white rice
2 carrots, cut in 1/2" dice
6-8 cups water
salt and white pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon, plus additional lemon wedges for serving
yogurt for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a soup pot over a medium flame. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until softened but not browned, ~5 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, paprika and cayenne, and stir for a few minutes to toast the spices in the hot oil. Add the tomato paste and chopped tomato, and stir to combine. Allow to cook a couple more minutes, until the tomatoes soften around the edges. Add the red lentils, rice, chopped carrots, and water (start with the smaller amount). Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils have broken down into a rough puree, the rice has started to lose its shape, and the carrots are very soft, ~45 minutes. Add more water as it cooks, if needed.

When the soup has cooked down, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the lemon juice. Serve hot, with lemon wedges and a dollop of yogurt if desired.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Apple Ricotta Coffee Cake

You're probably thinking that you don't need another coffee cake recipe. Until last week, that's what I thought too. But then I had a bite of this cake.

Like many of the best recipe discoveries, this was born out of necessity. An evening at a friend's house turned into an impromptu sleepover (it turns out that reading a bedtime story to a five-year-old can have the unintended side effect of leaving you asleep on the couch), which led to an impromptu brunch the next morning. There was a cup of ricotta cheese in the fridge left over from a previous recipe, a few apples in the fruit basket, and a pantry full of baking supplies. A bit of internet searching turned up this delicious recipe.

This is a pretty hefty cake, weighing a staggering amount and filling the springform pan up to the brim. But luckily it keeps for several days, thanks to the ricotta cheese that creates a lusciously moist crumb. A layer of apples and struesel are snuck into the center, and crunchy pecans seasoned with more streusel crumbs flavor the top. This is a cake that makes you want to take a coffee break.

Apple Ricotta Coffee Cake

adapted from Seriously Good

Streusel Filling/Topping:
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp butter, cut into 6 pieces

1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese

2 small crisp apples (or, in our case, one frighteningly large one), peeled and diced into 1/2" cubes, tossed with lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9" springform pan, set aside.

To make the streusel: Place the brown sugar, flour, rolled oats, cinnamon and salt in a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the 6 tablespoons of butter, and pulse several times until you can no longer see lumps of butter. Set aside.

To make the cake batter: Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Set aside. In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs one by one, beating well after each addition. Add half the ricotta, mix to combine, and then add half the flour and mix well. Repeat with the remaining ricotta and flour mixture.

To assemble the cake: Spread half the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of the streusel filling, and all of the apples. Spread the remaining batter of the top -- it is a somewhat thick batter, so plop spoonfuls over the top and spread gently. Sprinkle the top with the pecans and remaining streusel. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about an hour or longer. Cool somewhat to allow the cake to set before eating.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Shahi Paneer

Many of my attempts at Indian cooking are met with limited success. Despite years of eating Indian food, and despite having amassed a spice rack full of amchur and asafoetida and the like, many of my curries taste like.... Well, like hippie concoctions. At best, they are interestingly-spiced stir-fries. I still like the results, in the same way I like the block of Indian restaurants that line East 6th Street in New York City: they're clearly not "authentic" or even, well, "good," but they are nice enough, and pleasantly suggest the authentically good meal you were aiming for. Truly good Indian cooking relies on non-Western cookware and technique, and a back-of-the-hand familiarity with a huge pantheon of spices. Since I don't have either of these at my fingertips, I'm pretty hopeless when it comes to freestyling an Indian dish, or rescuing one that hasn't come out quite right. To cook a stellar Indian dish, I need a stellar Indian recipe. Luckily, I've found a few.

Shahi Paneer, also called Paneer Makhani or Royal Paneer, features cubes of fresh cheese in a richly-spiced tomato cream sauce. You can make your own paneer cheese from milk, but I lazily buy it pre-made. Like many "royal" dishes from India's moghul cuisine, it features a slightly sweet, Persian-inflected spice combination from Indian's Muslim history. Although I am normally a bit shy about the mixing of sweet and savory -- no fruit-studded pilafs for me -- sauces like this toe the line beautifully. The touch of honey, ginger and cardamom brings out the sweetness in the fresh cheese, and tempers the fustier edge of some of the more savory spices and aromatics.

As with most Indian recipes, this features a few ingredients that you might not have on hand. While I'm usually a big fan of substitutions and Iron Pantry Chef innovation, in this case it's worth it to make sure you follow the recipe as adapted below. When I tasted the sauce mid-simmer, it seemed just alright, nothing special. But when I added the dried fenugreek leaves at the end, it turned into an amazing dish. You can find fenugreek leaves (a different flavor from the also-available ground seeds) at your local health food store or Indian market.

Shahi Paneer

adapted from Archana's Kitchen
serves 4-6, depending on how many other dishes are served

2 cups chopped onions
2 Tbsp fresh ginger
6 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp neutral, high-heat oil (canola or grapeseed or peanut), divided
2 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp chili powder (pure ground chili, not Mexican-style chili powder that's pre-mixed with cumin and oregano -- you can substitute paprika with a pinch of cayenne)
3+ cups chopped fresh tomatoes (if substituting canned, only use 2 cups)
2-4 tsp honey
1/2 cup half-and-half, or a slightly smaller amount of heavy cream
2 Tbsp fenugreek leaves (also called kasoori methi)
1 lb paneer cheese, cut into cubes (large cubes make for a more dramatic presentation, though small cubes absorb more delicious sauce -- cut it as you prefer)
salt to taste
1/4 cup cashews, whole or pieces

In a food processor, puree the onions, garlic and ginger into a smooth paste. Heat 2 Tbsp of the oil over a medium heat, and saute the wet paste until it dries out a bit, and begins to turn a light golden color. Stir occasionally and keep the heat low to prevent it from forming a crust -- you want it to cook evenly. Add more oil if needed to keep it from sticking.

While the onion-garlic-ginger mixture is cooking, measure out all the dry spices except the fenugreek leaves (cardamom, turmeric, cumin, garam masala, and chili powder or paprika) into a small dish and set aside. Dump your tomatoes into the food processor, grind into a puree, and set aside.

When the onion-garlic-ginger mixture is golden brown, add your pre-measured spices. Stir to combine and saute for a minute, to toast the spices without burning them. Add the tomato puree, stir, and simmer over a medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, to reduce slightly and develop the flavors. Stir occasionally.

After 20 minutes, add the honey and half-and-half, and simmer gently for another 10 minutes. Taste and add salt as needed. Add the fenugreek leaves and paneer, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes to meld the flavors.

While the dish is finishing its final simmer, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over a medium-high heat. Add the cashews, and cook until lightly browned. Scatter the toasted cashews over the shahi paneer, and serve.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Olive Oil Rosemary Cake

Dairy-free baking can be something of a drag. Butter is such an essential ingredient, and margarine is a poor substitute. Butter gives cake lightness, by containing the tiny air bubbles that you beat into it during the creaming stage, and it provides tenderness by preventing the flour from forming tough, bready gluten strands. And, not least of all, it gives the cake flavor. At their best, buttery cakes are airy, tender, and....well, buttery. How can you get the same combination without the butterfat? Turns out it's not as hard as you'd think.

While the terms "oil" and "delicious dessert" don't generally go hand-in-hand in most people's minds, it turns out oil can work wonders in cakes. Yes, it has its limits. A butter-free cake can't give you the same taste and texture as a classic poundcake, or a cream-method layer. But according to Shirley Corriher's Bakewise, oil actually does a better job than butter of coating the flour and preventing gluten from forming, yielding cakes of extraordinary delicacy. Even in classic butter-based cakes, Corriher often substitutes a bit of oil for this property. It's the reason oil is used in muffins, to provide this same delicate tenderness. But of course, we all know that oil and butter aren't going to be confused in any blind taste-test. So what to do about the flavor?

There are a few solutions to the question of taste in an oil-based cake. One is to focus on cakes that have a lot of other things going on, like a vegetable- and nut-packed chocolate zucchini cake. There's also my current favorite chocolate cake recipe, which uses oil for delicacy and a combination of cocoa, chocolate, coffee and buttermilk for a deliciously strong flavor. And then there is this path: a cake that doesn't compensate for oil with other additions, but rather plainly showcases the flavor of the oil itself. This is put to best use with a flavorful oil. Like olive oil.

If you have trouble thinking of oil as a dessert element, olive oil might be an even harder sell. But it's surprisingly good. This cake uses Italian ingredients that are more often used in main dishes, but it is most definitely a dessert. The grassy olive oil and piney rosemary are rounded out by a good dose of sugar, resulting in a sophisticated grown-up flavor. I like to accent the dessert quality a bit more by adding a touch of vanilla for depth, and a light sprinkling of sugar for a sweet top crust. The texture is light and delicate from the oil, making it perfect to accompany your coffee or drink at the end of a rich meal. Or you can take the combination a step further, like my fellow diners the other night who poured a bit of limoncello directly onto their servings. The woody rosemary sprig on top will need to be removed before slicing the cake, but it's so pretty I just couldn't resist.

Olive Oil Rosemary Cake

adapted from The Babbo Cookbook by Mario Batali

makes 1 loaf

1 1/2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar, plus an additional spoonful for topping
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves, plus 1 sprig for topping

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together for several minutes, until pale and foamy. With the mixer running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a thin stream. Add the vanilla (if using), then gently fold in the chopped rosemary. Add the flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle delicately with the reserved spoonful of sugar, covering the surface with a light dusting. Place the reserved rosemary sprig gently on the top (it will sink in as the batter rises around it, so no need to push it down). Bake ~45 minutes, until the cake is light golden and a tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


The drawbacks to a long distance relationship are pretty obvious. There is the travel (and related expense), the long lonely nights, the impatience, and the negotiation of time zones. There are emails to be taken out of context, arguments to snowball without the benefit of daily conversation, and a thousand other difficulties. But there are also benefits. The evening-long phone calls, the romantic reunion, and the fondness that grows for an absent heart. And the care packages.

Many years ago, I had a courtship which began with a care package. Inside the small box was mix CD full of poignant songs, and a handful of biscuits for my dog. What more does a girl need? (Emotional compatibility, it turns out, but that's another story.) I have also sent out my share of care packages into the postal ether, to woo partners or to help friends out through rough times. I have sent packages that say "Sorry your boyfriend dumped you," or "I hope you manage to finish your dissertation." Sometimes there have been mix CDs (or, back in the day, mix tapes), sometimes there have been Polaroids of my dog in some thematically relevant costume, and once or twice there have been temporary tattoos. But whatever the occasion and composition, there's one constant: there are always cookies.

This particular recipe has long been my care-package standard. It was passed on by a college friend from her stepfather, on a hand-written page with the final instruction to "eat until sick." The page is now grease-stained and starting to wear at the edges, but I'm still not tired of these gingersnaps. They're sharp with ginger and deeply-flavored with molasses, and have an adorable series of crannies and fissures. But it's the texture I like best. They can be soft and gooey, or cooked longer for more of a "snap." And they store remarkably well, making them ideal to send to your friends, wherever the postal service finds them.


adapted by my friend Jessica's late stepfather

makes 4-5 dozen cookies, depending on size

3/4 cup butter, softened at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
3 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp ground ginger (and a bit more, if you like them spicy)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
generous pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, grease or line several cookie sheets.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the molasses. Beat until well combined.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, dried ginger, cinnamon and salt. Fold these dry ingredients into the butter mixture until just combined (i.e. until the streaks of dry ingredients just disappear). Form the dough into 3/4 round balls, and place on cookie sheet. Bake about 12 minutes. If you want gooey cookies, remove from the oven and place on a rack when they can just barely hold their shape enough for you to remove them (a touch under 12 minutes). For crisp snappy cookies, bake until the cookie firmly holds its shape when removed from the sheet (13+ minutes). Remove to a rack to cool. The cookies will have puffed in the oven, but will sink and flatten as they cool down. Eat until sick.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Porrusalda (Basque Potato Leek Soup)

There is something of a debate about cooking technique that occasionally rears its head in our house. On the one side, there is the practice of long, slow cooking. Soups and sauces are simmered for several hours, developing surprisingly deep flavors and smooth textures. On the other, there's the desire to cook fast and furious over high heat, and take the soup pot off the stove because come on it's done enough and I'm really hungry! I'm embarrassed to say that I represent the latter camp.

Whenever I manage to quiet my impatient grumbling and let something simmer for the alloted time, I'm usually floored by the results. This soup is an especially good example of the startling transformation that can be achieved through slow cooking. As in much of Basque cooking, the emphasis isn't on a handful of spices or flashy additions, but on a careful treatment of fresh vegetables. The ingredients are as humble as they come -- just a handful of root vegetables and some water -- but the resulting soup is full of flavor.

Porrusalda (Basque Potato Leek Soup)

as interpreted by Iñaki Guridi
yields one large pot

Traditionally, the potatoes aren't cut with a knife, but broken into rough-edged pieces that release more starch to thicken the soup. To do this, slide a paring knife halfway through a peeled potato, about 1.5" down. Press the potato between your thumb and the knife, and twist to free a chunk roughly 1.5" square (although, of course, it won't be square). Repeat until the whole potato is reduced to rough chunks.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced into thick rounds
3 waxy red or yellow potatoes, peeled and broken into chunks (see note above)
4 leeks, washed and sliced into 1" rounds
4 large (or 6 small) carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2" rounds
water to cover
salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and potatoes, and saute for a few minuts. Add the leeks and carrots, and saute for another minute. Add water to cover by 1", and a bit of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer, covered for about 2 hours (or, ideally, longer), stirring occasionally. Season to taste with additional salt.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Potatoes Bravas

A few years ago, I saw an excellent writer talk about how he was incapable of sitting down to put words to paper. During the question period, someone in the audience asked what he did instead of write. He stopped to think about this. "Well," he said, "I check my email a few hundred times a day. And I have a series of snacks."

That sounds like a pretty apt description of my own life. "Snack" is definitely one of my favorite food categories. Sure, I'm happy to pull together a foursquare meal with vegetables and protein and whole grains and all that. But a tasty cocktail and a frightening amount of bread and cheese? Who is to say that's not a meal?

Last week, I ended up pulling together an impromptu dinner party on short notice. My love of Spanish food combined with my love of snacks made a tapas-inspired dinner a natural choice. One friend brought a baguette and cheese, and we dug up some rhubarb liqueur from the basement. I cracked open a jar of pickled asparagus and topped the scattered stalks with hard-boiled eggs, a trick I recently read in a book. I also sauteed up some mushrooms with garlic and sherry, to go with the baguette. But we still needed something else, and I didn't want to go to the store. Which led me to Potatoes Bravas.

Potatoes Bravas, also called Papas Bravas, is a common Spanish tapas, and basically a clever way to make you feel classy and continental while eating a version of fries and catsup. Fried (or, in this case, roasted) potatoes are topped with spicy brava sauce, and then a garlicky aioli. American that I am, I get somewhat squicked out by topping an oily item with mayonnaise, so I omitted the aioli. The brava sauce is condiment enough. The twice-cooked potatoes turn soft and buttery, and are then perked up by the spicy-sour-smoky brava sauce. The fact that I could make these without leaving the house only added to their charm.

Potatoes Bravas

adapted, heavily, from
The Barcelona Cookbook

serves 4 or so, depending on what else is being served

2 lbs waxy potatoes (red or yellow)
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 Tbsp pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)
pinch cayenne (if using sweet pimenton - omit if using spicy)
1/2 tsp cumin
~1 lb chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
1 Tbsp sherry vinegar

Preheat the oven to 450 degreees.

Prepare the potatoes: Put the potatoes in a pot, and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until they're tender (about 15 minutes). Remove, and allow to cool slightly. When they're cool enough to handle, cut them in quarters into fat wedges. Toss with 1/4 cup of the olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and place on a baking pan. Roast in the oven, turning once, until crusty and slightly browned (about 10-15 minutes per side).

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the Brava sauce: Heat the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat in a heavy skillet. Saute the onion until translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until tender, another 5 minutes. Stir in the pimenton, cumin, and cayenne (if using). Add the tomatoes, and simmer 15 minutes to blend flavors. Stir in the vinegar, then puree mixture in a blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt.

To serve, drizzle the sauce either under or over the cooked potato wedges, in whatever manner seems most aesthetically pleasing. Enjoy, ideally with a glass of wine.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pasta with V8 Sauce

Bear with me here. I know that this title doesn't immediately conjure up images of a delicious dinner. But trust me. This is great. True, it's made of decidedly non-gourmet ingredients, and certainly doesn't fit anyone's definition of authentic Italian. But if you have a little faith, you'll discover what I consider to be the King of Pantry Meals.

Although few Italians begin cooking by cracking open a can of a Campbell's vegetable blend beverage, the flavors in this recipe aren't too far off tradition. Spaghetti Al Tonno is a typical Italian meatless dish, featuring pasta tossed with tomato sauce and oil-packed tuna. It's a simple meal, and comes in many variations. And this dish fits right in among them. Sure, you're measuring out a commercial drink rather than stewing your own tomatoes. But it's a drink featuring a strong tomato flavor, along with the celery and carrots found in some tomato sauces. Chile flakes add some heat, the capers and olives add a nice piquancy, and the oil-packed tuna gives the dish a meaty heft. I was skeptical of this recipe I first encountered it, but it quickly got the thumbs-up in our household. Now I try to make sure we're always stocked with the ingredients to throw this together on a busy weeknight.

Pasta with V8 Sauce

serves 4-6

adapted from the Spaghettini with Tuna and V8 Sauce in Nancy Silverton's A Twist of the Wrist: Quick Flavorful Meals with Ingredients from Jars, Cans, Bags and Boxes

I've tinkered with the quantities in the original recipe, upping the sauce-to-pasta ratio, and increasing the overall yield to ensure leftovers. And although Italians would scoff at the combination of fish and cheese, I sometimes top my serving with a bit of grated Parmesan.

1 14-oz package spaghetti
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large pinch chile flakes
2 cups V8, or other tomato/vegetable juice
2 6-oz cans oil-packed tuna (don't drain the oil)
2 Tbsp capers
1/4 cup green olives, coarsely chopped

In a large pot, boil water and cook pasta according to the instructions on the package.

While the water is coming to a boil, heat the olive oil and onion over medium-high heat in a large pot. Saute until the onion is just translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add celery, garlic, and chile flakes, and cook for a few minutes until the garlic is softened and fragrant. Add the v8, tuna and its oil, capers and olives. Stir, bring to a simmer, and reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Allow to simmer while pasta continues to cook.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the sauce. Continue to simmer for a few minutes, to allow the pasta to absorb the flavorful sauce. Season to taste with pepper and salt if needed (although the capers and olives and V8 will probably be salty enough). Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


A few years ago I was taking evening classes at a local college. One of my classmates lived downtown, and would commute by bus. Mostly this worked out fine, but every now and then class let out a bit early or late, and he'd be facing a long wait for the next bus. I gave him a ride a few times, as did another student who lived nearby. His apartment wasn't too far out of the way, and he was a nice guy, so we were glad to help.

On the last day of class, he presented me (and his other wheelman) a plate of handmade cookies, to say thanks for the rides. When I brought them home to my boyfriend (the few I managed to not eat right away), he remarked approvingly, through a mouthful of cookie, "That's what you're supposed to do." And he's right. We're happy to give and receive favors for friends, even when these favors involve a bit of expense or inconvenience. But in our post-Miss Manners age, we often forgo recognizing these favors. Which is a shame. It's understandable -- despite the best intentions of our mothers, the official Thank You Note can feel a bit too formal in most contexts. But the Thank You Baked Good is almost always appropriate.

This past weekend, I joined friends in another bulk canning throwdown. We turned 80 pounds of Honeycrisp apples into sauce, which took up much of the day. And while our kitchen is great for most projects, extraordinary amounts of apples call for extraordinary amounts of stovetop space. Our neighbors graciously volunteered to host in their large kitchen. They let us run four burners for five hours, and cover every available surface with sauce. The household welcomed our sticky invasion with good humor, but it seemed that an additional thanks was in order. Which brought me to Kolaches.

I'd been lusting after this recipe for a few months, and it did not disappoint. Rich, buttery and eggy yeasted dough is filled with sweet cheese and jam fillings, and topped with a sandy sugar-crumb topping. It's one of those baked goods that looks ridiculously pretty, like it should have sprung, fully formed, from the head of the brunch gods. But it turns out to be not much more difficult than scooping out a batch of cookies. The recipe also allows for plenty of time to clean up mixing bowls and kitchen counters while the dough rises and bakes, which makes it a great choice if you're hosting a brunch. Or if you need a sweet way to say thanks. We nibbled these all morning as we chopped, simmered, milled and boiled, and five hours later we were all trembling from an overdose of sugar (at the expense of actual food). Perhaps next time I'll think of a savory Thank You as well.


adapted by Lottie + Doof from a "crazypants" recipe in Saveur, further adapted by me

makes 15-16 kolache

This recipe yields enough cheese filling for half the batch (especially if you cram it into deep wells, as I did). You can double the cheese filling to make an all-cheese batch, or fill the remainder with jam (I used apricot and strawberry, and both were delicious).

1 package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp coarse salt
3 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup milk

Cheese Filling:
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup cream cheese
3 Tbsp sugar
squeeze of lemon juice
1 egg yolk

Crumb Topping:
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp melted butter

Also: jam of your choice, and 1 Tbsp melted butter

Make the dough: Sprinkle the yeast and 1 tsp of the sugar in a bowl, let sit 5 minutes until the yeast bubbles. While the yeast is proofing, beat the butter and remaining sugar in a bowl until well combined. Add the salt and egg yolk, beat until smooth. Add the yeast/water mixture, and then the flour and milk. Knead until it comes together in a smooth dough (it will be fairly soft and sticky). Give the dough a few turns on a floured countertop, adding additional flour if needed (try to add as little as needed), and form it into a ball. Return the dough to a bowl, cover, and set aside to rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

In the meanwhile, make the filling: Beat the cottage cheese, cream cheese, sugar, lemon and egg yolk until smooth. Set aside.

Make the crumb topping: Mix together the sugar and flour, and drizzle in the melted butter. Rub together with your fingers until well distributed, yielding a sandy topping with occasional clumps.

Assemble the kolaches: Divide the dough into 16 pieces. Shape into slightly flattened balls, and place them 4x4 on a greased baking sheet about 1/2" apart (I had a particularly narrow baking dish, so I made 15 doughballs, and arranged them in rows 3x5). Brush the doughballs with the melted butter, cover tightly with plastic wrap or a plastic bag, and let rise another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

When the kolache balls have risen 30 minutes, remove the plastic and have your crumb topping and jam and cheese fillings ready. Using your fingers or a spoon, make a deep indentation in the top of each dough ball, enough to accommodate a heaping tablespoon of filling. Place the filling of your choice in each hole, and then sprinkle the crumb topping over everything (don't worry as the sandy crumbs cover your pretty jam -- the heat of the jam will melt the covering crumbs as they bake). Place the kolaches in the oven, and bake until browned and set, about 30-40 minutes.

These are best eaten the day they're made (in case you needed an excuse).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Spicy Vegetable Matzoh Ball Soup

There are many reasons to embark on cooking projects. But last week, as unseasonable wintery winds were whipping through the cracks in our house, I had one main motivation: to cook meals that kept the stove and oven on as long as possible. Time for slow roasting, and batches of cookies. And soup.

Matzoh ball soup has a heavy rotation in our household, especially during the winter months. The traditional version is fairly simple: dumplings in a clear dill-scented broth, with just a few carrots and parsnips and a handful of noodles. It's delicious, and especially welcomed when you've got a sore throat or some sniffles. But sometimes you want something a bit more interesting. This matzoh ball soup is chock full of vegetables and spicy with chile flakes. It's like your favorite vegetable soup, with the added bonus of some delicious dumplings.

This batch makes a huge amount (I usually split it between two pots). Feel free to halve it, if you're not feeding an army, or make the full amount and freeze some.

Spicy Vegetable Matzoh Ball Soup

adapted from a recipe developed by Gillian Rosicky, via her sister

yields two large pots

There is an ongoing debate in the matzoh ball soup community about floaters vs. sinkers: whether your dumpling is tender or toothsome. These fall on the latter side of the spectrum. I think that a more substantial matzoh ball makes a nice complement to the vegetables in this soup, but if you favor a lighter dumpling, just reduce the amount of matzoh meal by a few tablespoons.

2-3 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 shallots, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 carrots, sliced
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut in a 1/2" dice
1/4 tsp cloves
a few hefty pinches chile flakes (depending on how hot you like it)
1 28-oz can chopped tomatoes
12 cups vegetable or chicken broth (more, if needed)
3 small zucchini, sliced into thick half-moons
8 shiitke mushrooms
2-3 cups broccoli florets
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Matzoh Balls:
3 Tbsp butter or oil
5 scallions, chopped
2 Tbsp broth
4 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup matzoh meal

Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Saute the onions, shallots, garlic, carrots and sweet potato until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the cloves and chile flakes. Pour in the broth and tomatoes, and simmer for about 15 minutes.

When you add the broth to the soup, prepare the matzoh balls: warm the butter or oil in a skillet over a medium heat, and cook the scallions until softened (this will just take a minute or two). Let cool somewhat. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and broth with the spices, baking powder, and matzoh meal. Add the onions and their butter/oil, and chill in the refrigerator.

Return to the soup: after the onions and such have been simmering in the broth and tomatoes for 15 minutes, add the zucchini, broccoli and shiitake mushrooms. Add more broth if needed. Simmer another 15 minutes. Take the matzoh ball dough out of the refrigerator (it will have been chilling about half an hour), and shape into small 1" balls, using either a small scoop, two spoons, or your hands (use some oil to keep it from sticking if you go this route). Plop these in the simmering soup as you shape them. Simmer another 30 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. You want the matzoh balls to be light and puffy and cooked through, and the vegetables to be very tender. When the soup is done, season to taste, and top with the fresh basil.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Magic in the Middles (Peanut Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies)

I can be a hard person to surprise. I tend to want to know what's going on, and my dogged efforts to establish plans can make it hard for someone to spring something on me. Which is a shame, because I love surprises. Like these cookies.

If ever a cookie lived up to a six syllable name, it's this retro gem. Biting into the sugar-dusted chocolate cookie is like opening the door to a darkened room, only to find that your friends have been huddled inside in party hats, waiting for you to arrive. Hello, peanut butter filling! How lovely! I had no idea!

As my previous foray into dumplings illustrated, a Thing Wrapped in Dough is always something of a project. Instead of just making a Thing, you have to also make the Thing to Wrap it In, and then spend time Wrapping the Things Together. Again, a free afternoon or an army of helper kitchen monkeys is advised. But, I must stress, these are worth the trouble. You can make a full recipe and freeze some, or halve it if you're not up for the hours of cooking.

Magic in the Middles

makes ~2 dozen cookies

adapted from King Arthur Flour

As mentioned, there's a bit of fussing involved in assembling these cookies. You want a dough that is just moist enough to work with (it should just crack a teensy bit at the edges as you shape the cookies), but not so moist that the cookies spread disappointingly in the oven. Also the cooking time seems ridiculously short. But trust me, it works. Don't overbake -- you want a soft outer cookie, to meld with the moist filling.

Chocolate Cookie:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar (plus extra for dredging)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg

Peanut Butter Filling:
3/4 smooth peanut butter
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 spoonful or two of milk, if needed

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease or line two cookie sheets.

Prepare the chocolate cookie dough: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugars and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and egg, stirring to combine. Add the dry ingredients, and mix until combined. Add additional flour if needed to get a firm consistency (see note above). Set aside.

Prepare the peanut butter filling: In a mixing bowl, beat the peanut butter and powdered sugar together. Add additional powdered sugar or milk, if needed, to yield a mixture that is smooth, yet moldable.

Assemble the cookies: Place some sugar in a shallow dish. Using a cookie scoop or two spoons or your hands, roll the peanut butter filling into 1" balls (you should get about 2 dozen). Scoop out a heaping Tbsp of chocolate dough, and press it flat between your palms. Place a ball of peanut butter filling in the center, and bring up the chocolate dough around it, sealing it with your fingers and rolling it in your palms to smooth it. Set aside. Repeat to shape remaining cookies.

When cookies have all been shaped, roll them in sugar to coat, and place them 2" apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Press them with the underside of a glass, to flatten them to a thickness of 1/2". Bake the cookies for 7-9 minutes, until they're just barely set and are smelling delicious. Remove them to a rack to cool

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts and Walnuts

I've already admitted that sometimes appearance is a bigger motivator than I'd like it to be in my food choices. Another example: a few weeks ago, I saw this recipe for sweet potato gnocchi with Brussels sprouts. Was I inspired by this combination of bitter crucifers with sweet potatoes? Did I thrill to the autumnal resurgence of toasted nuts and root vegetables? Was I excited to finally see a recipe involving my beloved Brussels sprouts, a vegetable that is so rarely invited to the table? Not really. Mostly I thought Oh look! The Brussels sprouts are the same size as the gnocchi! Adorable!

This dish is indeed adorable. But it's also tasty. And easy. While the original recipe involved homemade gnocchi, I went the easy way out and picked up a vacuum-sealed pre-made package. Making gnocchi is indeed worth the effort (more on that sometime later), but mostly because you end up with a dumpling that is much more delicate than its commercial counterpart. In a combination like this, delicacy doesn't matter that much -- you want toothsome gnocchi that will hold their own against Brussels sprouts. And instead of going for simple pan-cooked sprouts as originally called for, I gave them my favorite treatment of oven roasting. The sprouts soften and gain a bit of caramelized sweetness, while maintaining a slight bitter edge. This is rounded out by the depth of the toasted walnuts, and tied together with a sprinkling of grated cheese. With shelf-stable gnocchi, and long-storing nuts, cheese and Brussels sprouts, this very nearly qualifies as a pantry meal. It's one of the easiest and tastiest in that genre that I've had in a long time. Definitely going into the regular rotation.

Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts and Walnuts

inspired by
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts and Walnuts on Seven Spoons

~4 servings

2 lbs brussels sprouts (or less, if you're not as sprout-happy as I am)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb pre-made gnocchi
2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
salt and pepper
Parmesan or Romano cheese for serving

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Rinse the Brussels sprouts, and trim off the bottom if needed. Slice in half, and toss with the olive oil until well coated. Spread out in a single layer (roughly) in a casserole dish, and roast at 450, turning occasionally, until they are tender and deep brown in spots, ~30 minutes. Set aside.

When the sprouts are almost done, cook the gnocchi in boiling water according to the manufacturer's directions. Drain. Heat the butter or olive oil in a large skillet or pot over a medium-high flame, and add the gnocchi. Cook until just beginning to brown, and then add the roasted Brussels sprouts. Cook to heat through. Add the walnuts, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with grated cheese.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tomato Chutney

My first experience with chutney happened in high school, and had little to do with India. I ordered curry from a small cafe, which came garnished with yogurt and Major Grey's Mango Chutney. Sweet with high fructose corn syrup, dark with caramel coloring, and mildly spiced to accommodate Anglo palates, it probably bore little resemblance to anything eaten in India (well, eaten by those other than the British imperials). But it had something that intrigued me, even though I'm normally a bit squicked out by the pairing of sweet and savory (I know). I looked around for recipes, landing on the equally Anglo Moosewood Cookbook. I followed the directions, cooking up a syrupy mass of fruit, honey, vinegar, ginger and garlic. For a while, I thought that that was all that chutney could be.

And then I discovered the true world of chutney. Pungent purees of fresh cilantro, hot with green chiles and rich with ground coconut. Sweet and sour tamarind sauces, savory stewed cloves of whole garlic, powdery peanut pastes. But one of my favorites is tomato chutney.

Tomato chutney has a warm richness from the sweet tomatoes and long cooking, and a fusty edge from the mustard seeds and curry leaves. And, of course, heat from the chiles and cayenne (which, admittedly, I tend to adjust down because I'm something of a chile wuss). I use this to fancy up my Indian meals (either homemade or *gulp* from a pouch), but it can also be substituted for catsup to put a whole new spin on burgers. I'm curious to see what other combinations it can inspire.

Tomato Chutney

I adapted this from a faded recipe I copied down years ago, and despite repeated googling I haven't been able to find the source. Any attribution appreciated. Even if you don't have the full rundown of the spices called for, you can try it with what you have, and still produce a stellar condiment.

1/4 cup high-heat oil, such as peanut, grapeseed or canola
10 fresh or frozen curry leaves
4 dried red chiles
2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
pinch fenugreek seeds
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sambar powder (substitute ground coriander if you don't have this)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
pinch asafetida
scant 2 lbs tomatoes, chopped
2 1/2 Tbsp tomato paste
up to 2 Tbsp sugar (depending on sweetness of tomatoes)
~1 Tbsp salt

Heat the oil in a heavy pan, over a medium-high heat. Add the whole spices (curry leaves, chiles, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek). Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the spices are fragrant and the mustard seeds have stopped popping (just a minute or two). Add the remaining ground spices (cayenne, paprika, turmeric, and asafetida), and cook for just a half a minute to toast them. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, stirring, and the salt and sugar to taste. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until the tomatoes break down, and the oil separates out. The time this takes will vary, depending on the liquid content of the tomatoes -- generally about 20-40 minutes.