Sunday, October 24, 2010

Salted Butter Break-Ups

There's something intimidating about actually meeting people whose work you admire. You spend so much time appreciating from afar, be it music or writing or cooking, and feel a kinship with the artist because their work resonates with you so deeply. You know you must have so many sensibilities in common, and when you meet, this shared bond will just somehow sing across the room. If you don't end up bff, you'll at least end up with a real heart-to-heart moment, perhaps an invitation for a drink.

But in reality, it seldom works that way. You finally push forward your book for an autograph, stammer something generic about how "I really like what you do," blush, and melt back into the crowd. Sigh. Occasionally there are moments, such as when you and your friends sneak into the after party for a live taping of your favorite radio show and are invited out for a surreal evening of drinks afterward. But for the most part, it's pretty nervous-making and seldom goes the way you rehearsed in your many, many daydreams. Which is all to say I didn't go see Dorie Greenspan when she was in town this week.

For those unfamiliar with her lovely work, Dorie Greenspan writes about baking and French food. She manages to keep an eye on both the smallest details of technique, and the almost incalculably large role of food in our lives. Greenspan is also the woman behind the delicious salted chocolate sablees which I de-glutinized for a recipe earlier this year. And although I chickened out of the live meeting, I continue to worship in my oven from afar. And so I present Dorie's salted butter break-ups.

These cookies are baked from a single slab of buttery dough, and then broken apart into chunks with your hands (which proves just as emotionally satisfying as it sounds, plus yields a variety of textures ranging from nicely tender center chunks to deliciously caramelized end bits). I usually pooh-pooh people who say they don't have time to make cookies, because c'mon, they're so easy. But as I struggled to finish six quarts of soup and a round of bagel chips for a soup swap, a no-scoop mega-cookie sounded appealing. So I blitzed the dough, rolled it out, painted it with an egg wash and drew a crosshatch of lines with a fork (optional but fun, and strangely reminiscent of high school doodling for some reason), and baked it up. And broke it up. Perhaps next time I'll manage to make it to the book signing as well.

Salted Butter Break-Ups

yields 1 5"x11" cookie, which can be broken into as many chunks as you desire

adapted from
Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

1 3/4 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp coarse salt, plus more for sprinkling if desired
9 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 18 pieces
3-5 Tbsp cold water
1 egg yolk, plus additional water

Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor, and pulse for a few seconds to combine. Add the butter, and pulse until you're left with pea-sized bits (in addition to some small flakes). Pulse the machine and add the water gradually, until it just barely forms a ball (this might not require the whole amount). The dough will be very soft.

Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, form it into a chubby square, and refrigerate for at least an hour (or a few days, if needed).

When the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with a silpat or parchment, or grease well. Let the dough soften at room temperature for a few minutes. Roll out (between plastic or waxed paper) into a rectangle that's about 5"x11", and transfer to the prepared sheet.

Beat the yolk with a splash of water, and paint it over the surface of the dough with a pastry brush (or, if you're me, a wadded up bit of the waxed paper you used to roll out the dough). Using the back of a fork, decorate the cookie in a crosshatch pattern by drawing the underside across in one direction, forming a series of tracks, then perpendicular to them. Sprinkle with additional salt, if you favor a pronounced salty-sweet flavor.

Bake the cookie for 30 to 40 minutes, or until it is lightly golden (and slightly dark on the edges, if that's what you favor). It will be firm to the touch, but have a little spring when pressed in the center. Allow to cool to room temperature, then break it as you please, either before serving or at the table.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Soup Swap

I told you last week that I would leak a few more secrets about the soup swap that led to my (oh-so-delicious) bagel chips. So I present my article from today's Oregonian about a swap I attended in Portland, as well a general rundown of this sort of swapping. And as a bonus, you get a link to my very own matzoh ball recipe (as well as some other delicious homemade soups from friends and neighbors), and tips for hosting a swap of your own. What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bagel Chips

I love when multiple problems can be solved with a single act. To wit: a few weeks ago I attended a soup swap (more on that later), and needed to clear out some freezer space in anticipation of the quarts I was set to receive. It was a tall order, since my freezer is stocked to the gills with who-knows-what (my freezer inventory system is sadly no longer in effect). A significant chunk of freezer real estate was taken up by a bag containing a half dozen or so day-old bagels. And, concurrently, I needed to bring a snack to said soup swap. Hello, bagel chips!

Bagel chips are ridiculously easy to make. The hardest part is thinly slicing the bagels -- next time frozen bagels call out for en-chipping, I'll probably try to slice them up when they're still a bit frozen, so they'll hold together firmly for easy cutting. But beyond the slicing, it's just tossing with some oil, seasoning if desired (I used everything bagels, so I just added a sprinkling of salt, but you can add pressed garlic, chopped rosemary, or whatever sounds delicious), and baking. As an inveterate toast-burner, I erred on the side of well-browned crispness, but you can pull them from the oven whenever they're done to your liking. It's my new favorite way to clean out the freezer.

Bagel Chips

This is more of a loose guideline than an actual recipe, easily adapted to any amount of leftover bagels you may have in your possession (frozen or otherwise).

bagels, sliced as thinly as possible
olive oil
seasonings (salt, chopped or pressed garlic, fresh rosemary, etc.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the bagels in a bowl, and barely coat them with olive oil (If you have one of those olive oil misters or a pastry brush, those work perfectly, but if you're like me, just drizzle with a bit of oil, place another large bowl over the top, shake madly, and repeat as necessary until they're all lightly coated). Toss with any desired seasonings, and turn out onto a cookie sheet(s) in a single layer. Bake, turning once or twice, until they're cooked to your desired level of browning, ~15-25 minutes. They will crisp up further upon cooling.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Moroccan Carrot and Chard Salad

It's hard to know what to cook these days. We're not yet into the brown-leafed, squash-studded days of fall here in Portland, but at the same time it's not really summer either. We've been alternating between barbecue-ready sunny afternoons, and rainy cold days that make you wonder if it's not too soon to dig out your wool sweaters. Hot soup? Cold salad? Hard to say.

This carrot and chard dish is one of my favorite recipes for these liminal days. It's a warm salad from the Moroccan tradition, pairing cooked carrots and chard with a bright herbal dressing. The recipe comes from Wolfgang Puck's contribution to The New York Times Passover Cookbook, and it's graced our Passover table for the past two years. The seder meal is often a celebration of Spring, and sprightly spears of asparagus are a common choice. But it's also right on the seasonal cusp, and depending upon the particulars of the Jewish calendar and the weather patterns, Passover can happen weeks before the chilly fields are even thinking about asparagus. This dish is a perfect choice for times like these, and not just because the shoulder crops of roots and greens are in season: the earthy/sweet carrots and rich chard provide a hearty, autumnal base, but the bright lemon juice and parsley perk things up with bright and sunny notes. On these strange days, when you wrap a thick cardigan around your sleeveless shirt, it's the perfect recipe.

Moroccan Carrot and Chard Salad

adapted, heavily, from Wolfgang Puck's recipe in The New York Times Passover Cookbook (I roasted instead of simmered the carrots, upped the parsley, reduced the oil, and made a few other tweaks)

serves 4-6 as a side dish

2 lb carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into 1" chunks (or longer if you like a more dramatic presentation)
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 tsp ground cumin
1 large bunch (or two small bunches) Swiss chard, coarsely chopped (stems included)
1 clove garlic, pressed
zest and juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
1/2 large bunch (or 1 small bunch) flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the carrots in a baking dish with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil, and sprinkle on the cumin and a few pinches of salt. Stir to coat the carrots with the oil and seasonings. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are soft and caramelizing on the edges, about 25-30 minutes (adjust the time depending upon how well-caramelized you like your carrots). Remove from the oven and set aside.

While the carrots are roasting, steam the chard in a steamer basket until wilted and soft, about 5-10 minutes. If you don't have a steamer basket, you can just simmer the chard for a few minutes in a large pot of boiling water, then drain well. Set aside.

In the meanwhile, make the dressing: mix together the remaining olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice and zest, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the carrots on a serving dish, top with the chard and parsley, and then pour the dressing over everything. You can toss to combine, or leave as is, like a composed salad. Serve warm. It's even nicer as the flavors sit and combine, but I seldom wait that long.