18th Feb 2011, by Mary, filed in Home Cooking, Recipe, Spice Rack Challenge
3 Comments

Okay, this is going to be an abbreviated post, because I lost track of the deadline for posting (thanks for the reminder, Cheryl!) and my brain is currently mush due to the plague. The recipe I chose for this month’s challenge was—

La!!!

Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange Marmalade, courtesy of Melissa Clark’s “A Good Appetite” column in the New York Times (and whose recent book “In The Kitchen With A Good Appetite” I can heartily recommend–I got it for Christmas and read it cover to cover). It was really absurdly simple to make–I could probably even make it now, in my present addled state. And, as a marmalade-delivery device (because even I’m not so big a fan of marmalade that I’d just scarf it up with a spoon … more than once or twice), I made Oatmeal Popovers. Cute as they were, they were a bit on the tough side for popovers–maybe it was the oats, or maybe I let them cool a little too long. The marmalade more than made up for them, though.

8th Feb 2011, by Mary, filed in Home Cooking, Recipe
Comments Off on Almost perfect

Don’t ask me what inspired this cookie experiment–maybe it was the fact that everyone seems to be revamping the tried-and-true Tollhouse recipe lately. Maybe it was the sheer hubris of America’s Test Kitchen calling their latest version “perfect” (not that I don’t like their work, and that cookie is damn good). Whatever the reason, some time recently I started wondering, what if I took the distinctive bits of the various chocolate chip cookie recipes I really like and mashed them all together into one super-recipe? Or as my husband has dubbed it, the Voltron cookie?

Finally, on last Wednesday’s snow day, I narrowed the field down to three recipes: ATK’s “Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie” (whose chief innovation is using browned butter, instead of creaming soft butter with the sugar), the NY Times’ super-fussy, fancy-pants version, and the “Mrs. Fields” recipe (see snopes.com for the fascinating story behind this urban legend), which I got years ago from my Mom. Since the recipes were fairly dissimilar, I used the ATK’s as the base recipe, swapped half the flour for oats finely ground in the food processor and added some grated semi-sweet chocolate to the dough, because I like the hearty chewiness and extra chocolaty-ness of the “Mrs. Fields” cookie. Then I topped the dough balls with sea salt before sticking them in the oven (à la the NY Times).  I also let some of the dough sit in the fridge for a couple of days, again per the NY Times’ recipe (the fact that we made–and ate–half of the cookies immediately was purely in the name of science, you understand).

Alec Baldwin, eat your heart out!

The first batch turned out pretty well, thoroughly chocolaty (they actually looked more like a chocolate-chocolate chip cookie) and nice and chewy in the middle, with a crisp edge. The second might have been just a tad better–but probably not worth waiting around the extra couple of days (which is how I felt about the NY Times recipe–the addition of the salt is really the best part of that one). David was of the opinion that the ground oats and the grated chocolate mostly swamped the taste of the browned butter. I suppose I agree, and I’d probably use a smaller proportion of oats in the future, and less grated chocolate. Still, they went awfully fast!

Mmm--chocolaty!

Almost Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

(adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s “Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie”)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cups finely-ground old-fashioned oats (about 2 to 2 1/4 cups before grinding)

1 tsp baking soda

3 1/2 sticks (28 Tbsp) unsalted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar

2 tsp salt (plus more to sprinkle on cookies)

4 tsp vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

2 1/2 cups chocolate chips or chunks (I like bittersweet, personally)

2 to 4 oz. bar semi-sweet chocolate, finely grated

Preheat oven (with a rack in the middle position) to 375 degrees. Whisk flour, oats and baking soda together in a bowl and set aside.

Brown the butter: melt 20 Tbsp (2 1/2 sticks) of butter over medium-high heat (use a largish skillet–not non-stick, because the dark coating makes it difficult to see when the butter changes color). Continue cooking, constantly stirring or swirling, until the butter starts to turn a deep gold-brown, then pour into a large heat-proof bowl immediately. (Watch the butter carefully–it can turn from perfectly browned to black in an instant.) Whisk remaining butter into the browned butter until melted.

Mix both sugars, salt and vanilla into butter. Add eggs and yolks and whisk till smooth. Now this is one of the keys to the ATK recipe: let the batter stand for 3 minutes, then whisk again for 30 seconds. Let stand and whisk a total of three times–the mixture will look smooth and shiny. Stir in the flour, oat and soda mixture till just combined, then add chocolate chips and grated chocolate.

Make balls of about 3 Tbsp dough each (these are big cookies, and for a reason–the centers of big cookies stay chewy!), and place about 2 inches apart on a large cookie sheet (I line my cookie sheets with parchment paper, but you can use a Silpat or a non-stick sheet if you like). Sprinkle each with a bit of salt (a salt with largish crystals, like kosher or sea salt, is best). Bake cookies for 10 to 14 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through (they’ll be puffy, and the centers should still be soft). Let cookies cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, till they’ve set a bit, then cool completely (or as long as you can stand to) on a wire rack. Makes approximately 32 cookies (assuming you don’t sneak too much cookie dough).

25th Jan 2011, by Mary, filed in Food blogs, Home Cooking, Recipe
1 Comment

Just a brief post–in addition to doing the Spice Rack Challenge, this year I’m hoping (in anticipation of possibly having a whole lot less time to cook in the near future) to amass a collection of good, simple slow-cooker recipes. I already have a good chili recipe (which I may post about some other time, if there’s any demand for yet another chili recipe), and a good salsa chicken taco filling recipe (courtesy of my friend Cheryl), and recently I came across an amazing hoisin pulled pork, which is another “dump it all in the crock pot and go” recipe–no pre-searing or sauteing required (and although I haven’t tried making it with chicken yet, I’m sure it would work fantastically). And, it came with a recipe for an equally amazing crunchy peanut slaw–I honestly wasn’t expecting much out the slaw, because nothing in the ingredient list screamed “yum” to me, but it ended up being so good I’d happily eat it all by itself. (I did substitute brocco-slaw-in-a-bag for the shredded cabbage–after the deluge of CSA cabbage this past summer, I just couldn’t bring myself to make another cabbage slaw–and it worked wonderfully.) Anybody else out there have a really killer, dead simple slow-cooker recipe?

BTW–The Kitchn (which is where these recipes, and many more recent winners I’ve come across, come from) has had a couple of interesting theme weeks lately–last week was gluten-free recipes, and the week before that they did vegan.

17th Jan 2011, by Mary, filed in Home Cooking, Recipe, Spice Rack Challenge
6 Comments

I’ve always envied folks who can simply look into their fridge or cupboards, or walk through the grocery store or farmers market, and somehow just throw together a fabulous meal, either by knowing intuitively what will make for a good combo, or by having some subsection of their memory set aside for the purpose of maintaining their own personal recipe file. I, on the other hand, wasn’t born with that intuitive cook gene, and have a memory like a sieve, so if I try to grocery shop without having spent the sort of time planning and consulting recipes one would usually devote to mounting a polar expedition, I get vapor lock the moment I step through the sliding doors and end up picking stuff totally at random.

On the other hand, I’m not a total slave to recipes. I like to tweak things a bit (especially since I tend to like my food more robustly flavored than 95 percent of the American populace, it seems). Take the following two recipes, which I made this past weekend as part of the Spice Rack Challenge (this month’s challenge is rosemary):

First off, we have Rosemary Walnuts, a recipe by Laurie Colwin (whose writing I love) via The Gourmet Cookbook. While I’ve made these a gazillion times, I’ve probably only followed the recipe to the letter once–it calls for melted butter, and given that we like to eat them by the handful around here, I decided olive oil would be the better choice (and with all that rosemary and cayenne, I can’t tell the difference in the finished product anyway). This recipe is absolutely dead simple, and while the walnuts are a bit messy, they’re absolutely worth it:

5 Tbsp olive oil (or melted butter, if you want to be really decadent)
4 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled (you could probably use fresh, too–just use more)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
4 cups walnut halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle. Mix together oil/butter, salt and spices in a large bowl, add walnuts and toss to coat. Spread nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes (don’t let the nuts burn, but let them get nicely toasted). These can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days, if they last long enough.

Okay, that was a relatively minor tweak. The other rosemary recipe I made this weekend, however, got tweaked a little more thoroughly. I decided I wanted to do something a little more unusual, something sweet instead of savory, so I started out with a recipe for a rustic rosemary-apple tart from A New Way to Cook, by Sally Schneider (you can also find it here). Given that I’ve been feeling a little whelmed lately, I really didn’t want to make my own pastry dough, especially since I had some perfectly good Trader Joe’s all-butter puff pastry sitting in my freezer (I strongly suggest you go get yourself some, right now, before it disappears again). What I ended up with was less rustic-looking, but about as simple to make, and with just the barest tinge of rosemary complementing the apples. (I also decided, on pulling the tart out of the oven, that it needed a glaze to pretty it up a bit, so I improvised with some honey, which was a very good idea, if I do say so myself.)

Not-So-Rustic Rosemary-Apple Tart

(the amounts below are vague because I was winging it, and they’ll vary depending on how large your sheet of puff pastry is)

1 sheet all-butter puff pastry, thawed
2-3 Tbsp packed light brown sugar
2-3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4″ thick
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1-2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced (don’t use dried here)
1-2 tsp unsalted butter
1-2 Tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat, if you’ve got one. Lay the sheet of puff pastry either on a cutting board or on the parchment paper (just cut carefully, if you do this). Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut 1/2″ strips off of the four sides of the puff pastry, and reserve. Use a fork to prick the remaining sheet all over, then lay the strips on top around the edges, trimming as necessary. Freeze for 15 minutes, then par-bake your tart crust for 10 minutes.

While the crust is baking, toss the apple slices, brown sugar, lemon juice and rosemary together in a bowl. After the crust comes out of the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Lay the coated apple slices on the crust in rows, slices overlapping one another (basically, you’re trying to fill up the center area, leaving as little of the bottom crust showing as possible). Dot with bits of the unsalted butter. Bake for an additional 20-30 minutes (keep an eye on the tart to make sure the edges don’t get too brown–you can put foil over the edges if they do seem to be browning too fast). Microwave the honey in a small bowl for 10-15 seconds–you want it to be more fluid, so it’ll be easy to brush on to the finished tart, to glaze it. Serve warm or cooled (a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream goes really well with this).

10th Oct 2010, by Mary, filed in Home Cooking, Recipe
Comments Off on Mmm–polenta!

Well, I wasn’t planning on posting about this, just because it’s nothing new to me (at least the dish as a whole isn’t), but it’s a favorite of David’s, and I hear it received an enthusiastic thumbs-up from cherydactyl (David kindly shared his lunch when she left hers at home). Also, later that same day, I was saying how this new polenta recipe I used was slow-cooked in the oven, eliminating a lot of the mess (and the constant stirring) of the traditional method, which piqued boo‘s interest, so…

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