Monday, December 30, 2013

Citrus and Ginger Hot Toddy

I often go all-out when it comes to potluck contributions — especially smaller potlucks. Partly to have an excuse to play around in the kitchen, and partly to ensure that there's a substantial veg-friendly option that I can actually make a meal of. But for my recent book club potluck, I decided to just contribute a beverage. The host had said that there'd be a vegetarian main dish, so I didn't need to worry. And also, I was sick. So I brought hot toddies.

In retrospect, I probably should have stayed home (as I was much, much more gross and snuffly than I'd thought I would be). But oh, those toddies. Everyone loved them. Perhaps because folks were still basking in a post-holiday glow, and perhaps because they wanted something seemingly healthy to keep them from getting what I was clearly dying of. And perhaps because this toddy was just really delicious.

When I've made toddies in the past, they've usually just been versions of lemony, honey-spiked tea, sometimes with a shot of booze. But this time I upped the citrus component (thanks to the last of my California backyard Meyer lemons), threw in some fragrant mandarins, and some sharp-hot ginger. I added a few optional touches that I happened to have on hand (a few shakes of bitters and a dozen piney-clean juniper berries), and stirred in some honey. With all that going on, I left out the tea bags, to let the flavors better come through. And yes, I also brought a bottle of bourbon on the side.

If you've got a winter potluck, this makes a phenomenal contribution (even if you don't have a cold). And if you've got an insulated airpot or similar thermos, it's even easier — instead of simmering and infusing on the stove, you can just toss everything in the canister, pour the boiling water over it, and let it infuse for an hour or so. It's great for toasting in whatever the new year may bring, or for just getting you through a snuffly night.

Citrus and Ginger Hot Toddy

yields ~8 servings

3 meyer lemons (2 juiced, 1 sliced)
2 mandarins (1 juiced, 1 sliced)
~2-3 inches fresh ginger (depending upon the thickness), thinly sliced
~a dozen juniper berries, thwacked with a knife to bruise them (optional)
a few shakes bitters
1/4 cup honey
scant 8 cups boiling water

If you have an airpot/thermos, place the citrus (slices and juice), ginger, juniper berries, and bitters in the pot. Place the honey in a heat-proof dish, and pour about a half-cup of the boiling water in to dissolve, then pour that in as well. Add the remaining boiling water to top it off, then cover and let infuse for about an hour (if you don't have an airpot, you can just simmer things on the stove). Serve with an optional slug of bourbon on the side.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Rosemary Hazelnut Cheese Shortbread Crackers

As I've made quite clear, I've got nothing against a sweet, buttery cookie. But this time of year, the sweets, they stack up. Sometimes when you head to a party, you want to bring a nibble that's a bit more savory. Like these cheese crackers.

For some reason, people seem to think it's hard to make crackers. But these are really just a riff on shortbread — a whole lot of butter and cheese, bound with flour and whatever additions or flavorings you want. I went with some front-yard rosemary and leftover Oregon hazelnuts, but the options are endless (walnuts, paprika, blue cheese, etc.). I brought them to a past-my-bedtime party (on a schoolnight!) last night, nicely packaged in a repurposed sauerkraut jar, where they were promptly demolished. Because clearly, it is cracker season.

Rosemary Hazelnut Cheese Shortbread Crackers

adapted, roughly, from Garde Manger: The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen
yields ~4 dozen small crackers, though yield will vary depending upon size

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
8 ounces grated cheese (I used a mix of sharp cheddar, aged gouda, and a wee bit of Romano)
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon coarse salt (or less, if your cheese is particularly salty)
1 cup all-purpose flour
scant 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts

In a large bowl or a stand mixer, beat together the butter, cheese and rosemary until well combined (using a paddle attachment or a wooden spoon). Add the salt and flour, mix well, then add the nuts. Mix until it comes together into a smooth dough (you can sprinkle in a bit of water if needed — mine didn't).

Roll the dough into two logs (of the diameter you favor for crackers — I went with ~ 1 1/2-inch), and wrap in parchment or plastic. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, at least one hour (and overnight is fine too, if it works better).

When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment, or grease them well. With a sharp knife, slice into thin rounds (~1/4-inch), and place on the cookie sheet with a bit of space between (they shouldn't spread that much). Bake until lightly golden on the edges, ~15-20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool fully, then store in an airtight container until party time.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Berber Omelet

The good thing about having friends who travel (other than the fetching little terra cotta cazuelas they send back) is getting a source of new culinary inspiration. Earlier in the year, my friends posted a picture of a Berber omelet they enjoyed in Morocco, right on the edge of the Sahara. Seeing the combination of some of my favorite things (namely eggs and olives), I decided to recreate. So I did a little online culinary research (which is sort of like travel, except, you know, not quite as much fun), and came up with a version of my own. And it was fantastic. You can find the recipe, along with my general treatise on the redemption of breakfast-for-dinner, over at NPR's Kitchen Window.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Almond-Covered Thumbprint Cookies

I once heard about a book that espoused a particularly appealing version of the "balanced diet" approach to weight loss. Say you want to have a milkshake? Well, it advised, have a milkshake! Just have a small one. And not every day. And accompany it with a big pile of steamed broccoli, and call it dinner.

At the time, I remember thinking that sounded great. Not as some sort of balanced system of penance and reward — simply because I like both of those items a whole lot, and a meal composed of the two would be across-the-board wonderful. It's often what I default to, especially when nobody else is around to mitigate. To whit: for a recent solo dinner, I ended up roasting and eating a pound of Brussels sprouts, followed by a few fresh-from-the-oven buttery, jammy cookies. And it was great.

I recommend these cookies as part of anyone's balanced brassica-filled meal. I've made thumbprint cookies before of a more hippie, oat-and-whole-grain-filled sort. I like that variation, but these have a buttery simplicity that's hard to beat. A rich, plain short dough, rolled in almonds that toast up in the oven, then filled with jam (in this case, a runny undercooked raspberry version I'd made, which was perfect for the task). Even without the Brussels sprouts, they more than hold their own.

Almond-Covered Thumbprint Cookies

adapted from Nikole Herriott, via Lottie and Doof
yields ~20 cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg, separated (I used two smallish eggs, which worked great)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
scant 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cups raw almonds, chopped (you want them small enough to adhere to cookies, but big enough to provide a nice bite)
~ 1/4 cup jam of your choosing (raspberry is especially nice)

Preheat your oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment, or grease them well.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until well-mixed and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla, and beat until well mixed. Stir in the flour and salt, and mix until the dough just comes together (you can add a spoonful of water if needed).

Scoop your dough out into generous tablespoons and roll into balls (you should have about 20).  Lightly whisk the egg whites, and places the almonds in a shallow bowl. Roll each dough ball in the egg whites to coat, then in the chopped almonds (you can use a little pressure if needed to make them adhere). Place the cookies on sheet, with a bit of space between them (they shouldn't spread all that much).

Press on each cookie, to flatten into a chubby disk. Using your thumb, or the handle of a wooden spoon, make a nice wide intent in the center of each cookie. Spoon a bit of jam into each indent (you may not be able to fit much more than a generous 1/4 teaspoon). Bake in the preheated oven until just beginning to turn lightly golden, ~15 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool. Best eaten in the first day or two.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Go-To Vegetable Soup

This past week brought a spate of traveling and holidays and celebrations. I have eaten cookies and latkes and New York pizza; I have finished unconscionable amounts of wedding appetizers and Thanksgiving courses and birthday cake. And now, I am home. I will snuggle my dog in my own comfy bed (farewell, pull-out couches!). I will do my laundry. I will read a book and spend a full 24 hours without making smalltalk with strangers. And I will make vegetable soup.

This soup is my go-to recipe, a sort of homely and humble minestrone-ish hybrid that I make every couple of weeks throughout the winter. It's an easy way to get a good shot of vegetables (whether or not you've had a deficit of same in your recent overindulgent Thanksgivukkah diet), and it freezes beautifully for a grab-and-go lunch on leftover-free days. And beyond a few basics (the building blocks of onions and carrots and tomato, the welcome sweetness of long-cooked cabbage), it is ridiculously adaptable. I've snuck in kale instead of chard, and a bunch of chopped parsley when I had neither. I've poured in leftover tomato juice instead of tomato puree, and stirred in handfuls of fresh basil in the summer. Beans have ranged from frozen leftover pigeon peas to quick pressure-cooked navies to none at all. No matter the variation, it tastes just like home.

Go-To Vegetable Soup

yields two full pots

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 small-medium onions, cut in a small dice
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 cup barley
~8 cups vegetable broth (I tend to use homemade freezer stock or Rapunzel bullion these days)
6 carrots, peeled or scrubbed, and sliced into thick coins
3-4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 small head cabbage, thinly sliced/shredded
4 cups tomato puree
2 bay leaves
1-2 cups cooked (or par-cooked) beans
1 bunch chard, leaves and stems, washed and chopped (leaves can be roughly chopped, but make sure the stems are sliced thinly, like the celery)
1 handful chopped fresh herbs (dill, parsley, basil, or whatever you have — optional)
salt and pepper

Heat a large soup pot over a medium flame (if you have a mega stockpot you could make this in a single batch, but if not you'll need another pot later). Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt, and saute until they become translucent but haven't totally collapsed, ~10 minutes (adjust head as needed so that they soften without coloring). Add the garlic and paprika, and cook for another minute or two to soften. Add the barley and vegetable broth. Raise the heat until it reaches a boil, then reduce until it's just high enough to simmer. Cook for about half an hour, until the barley is par-cooked (you can use this time to prep the remaining vegetables).

After half an hour, transfer half the mixture into a second soup pot (unless your pot is epically large). Between the two pots, divide the carrots, celery, cabbage, tomato puree, and bay leaves. If the beans are only par-cooked, add them as well (if they're fully cooked, they'll come later). Add water to cover the mixture by a generous few inches. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat until it's somewhere between a very gentle boil and a healthy simmer. Cook ~45 minutes, until the carrots are fully softened and the cabbage is mostly translucent and softened. Add the beans (if fully cooked and not yet added) and the chard and fresh herbs. Simmer another 30 minutes, until everything is fully cooked and the flavors have blended. Season to taste, and serve. Soup improves upon standing (and isn't so bad after freezing, either).