Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cookies, Part 2

I've stopped moping. I could continue on in the same vein, but no matter how depressed I get if people don't like my food, I can't deny a simple fact: I take great joy from making it. The process of creating a dish or ten, of producing a meal from raw ingredients infused with some time and energy... it is very satisfying. It's a good stress reliever, a meditative exercise, an experiment of in-house chemistry, an creation of culinary art all at once. And besides, after giving so much of my daily life to food, how can I stay away from it for long?

Also, it helps to know that it really is just the sugar content of the cookies that makes them an issue. I tested this theory and discovered that savory baked goods disappear just as quickly as before. But if you think that means that I would ever even consider giving up on desserts, then you are sorely mistaken. Maybe I'll focus a little more on heartier food, but no one can ever persuade me to abadon chocolate. Do you hear me? I WILL NEVER SURRENDER!

And in that spirit of delicious defiance, I'm still throwing together these nom-ables on a weekly basis. Here are some of the recent discoveries.

White Chocolate and Peppermint Brownies
This one's a winner. Fortunately, you don't have to actually like white chocolate to enjoy this brownie; the recipe doesn't focus on it. Instead, it uses the white chocolate as a backdrop to the pulverised peppermint. Combined, the two eventually harden, making a bark-like crust that keeps the brownie component from drying out its dark, chocolaty goodness. It's excellent, and I don't use that term lightly when it comes to chocolate.3oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 8Tbs (1 stick butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup (6oz) white chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped peppermint candies // I prefer more pulverised
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Kine 8-inch square baking pan with foil, allowing excess to hang over pan edges. Grease foil. Microwave unsweetened chocolate and butter in large bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 1min. Cool slightly.

Combine sugar, baking powder, salt, eggs, and vanilla in medium bowl and whisk until well combined. Add chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth. Stir in flour until just combined. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out with few crumbs attached, 22-27min.

Remove brownies from oven, sprinkle with white chocolate chips, and let sit until chips have softened but not melted, about 5min. Using spatula, smooth chocolate evenly over top of brownies, then sprinkle ground peppermint candies over chocolate. Cool completely, about 2hrs (yeah, right). Using foil voerhand, lift bars from pan and cut into squares.

Salty Chocolate Caramel Butter Cookies
I tapped this recipe to use as a caramel spill-over for last week's Chocolate Turtle Cookies. I knew I would have too many candies, and figured this would be a good way of using the rest of them. But to be honest, I'm tempted to say that this recipe is superior. Though they're a little tougher on the teeth (the textures of dry caramel and dry cookie differ greatly), their topping of salt & caramel guarantees that the dessert will have a very distinct taste. What's more, since it doesn't come across as very sweet, you feel less guilty about eating many in one sitting.
  • 20 Tbs (2,1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder // I had to skip this, but I bet it'd be great!
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 Tbs vanilla extract
  • 2,1/4 cups flour
  • 1 (14oz) bag soft caramel candies
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt
Melt 4 Tbs butter, cocoa powder, and espresso powder in saucepan over medium heat; stir until mixture forms smooth paste. Cool 15min.

With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat remaining butter, sugar, salt, and cooled cocoa mixture until fluffy, 1min. Add yolks and vanilla and mix until combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour in three additions, and mix until cohesive dough forms. Divide dough into three disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 1hr.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll each dough disk to 3/16-inch thickness. Using 2,1/2-inch round cutter, cut out cookies and place 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until centers are just set, 10-12min, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Cool 5min, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

In saucepan, melt caramels an heavy cream over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Top each cookie with heaping teaspoon glaze and sprinkle with sea salt. Let cool 30min.

Christmas Meringue Kisses
I'm not actually a huge fan of meringues. Though light/airy and very easy too make, they fall prey to two faults -- or rather, two aspects of one fault: they have no interesting taste and what little taste you do get has an overwhelming sugar content. This take on meringues solves the first problem, but definitely not the second. First, you add crushed peppermint candy to the beaten egg whites (a convenient way to use some leftovers from the brownies above). Then, you dip the cooked/dried cookies in melted chocolate. The three tastes (meringue, peppermint, chocolate) work well together, but there's just too much to handle. Overall, I would say these are definitely worth making... once. Maybe experiment with them with you're fond of meringues. But ultimately, these will be enjoyed only by those with a very serious sweet tooth and a penchant towards hyperactivity.
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 cups mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 Tbs crushed peppermint candies (about 8)
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 275 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat egg whites in large bowl until foamy. Add salt and cream of tartar and continue beating until soft peaks form, about 3min. Add vanilla and sugar, 1 Tbs at a time, and continue beating until mixture is glossy and stiff, about 2min. With spatula, fold in 1 cup chocolate chips and peppermint candies.

Using piping bag with plain 1/2-inch tip or teaspoon, pipe or dollop teaspoon-sized dots of batter, about 1 inch high, onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake until cookies begin to crack and are light gold, 25-30min, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Cool completely on sheets.

Melt remaining 1 cup chocolate chips and mix with oil in bowl. Dip bottoms of cooled kisses into chocolate, scrape off excess, and place, chocolate side up, on wire rack until chocolate sets.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Apologies for the small bout of radio silence. I had assumed that providing Neen with the means to take pictures of her food would lead her to post more blog entries -- at least enough for me to take a small break. But alas! She has been so affixed to her camera that she's been unable to pry herself away, not even enough to visit the computer. I appreciate the irony.

My absence has a variety of causes. First off, of course, there's the wonderful ladyfriend (<3!) acting as a new, and very welcome, distraction. But since a monologue of cooking & canoodling seems, uh, awkward, I'll just spare you. Secondly: a tale. I returned from my excursion to the Helvetica country armed and rarin' to go. I had acquired the December edition of the Food & Wine magazine (which, I must say, is excellent) and America's Test Kitchen 2010 collection of holiday cookies. I was so excited to try all of these new dishes, I was practically twitching. Before I fully shook off the seven hour jetlag, I was on a maniacal cooking spree. I made everything I had room & ingredients for: cookies, biscuits, breads... there were no limits.

And then... nothing.

I put everything out in public areas, where folks know to help themselves. But with only the occasional exception, the food just sat out there. It seemed to get nibbled on from time to time, but with such rarity that I started getting doubts. What happened to the days that I could throw an overabundance of food at the world and it would disappear in a matter of days? Were fewer people than usual passing through the apartment? Maybe they had all made resolutions regarding the intake of sugar. Or maybe they actually didn't like the food I made for them! I slowly started sinking into the role of a wounded artiste. I felt like the Players at the beginning of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: duped into performing for an audience that wasn't there.

I realised the levels of my own ridiculousness, and that for once, it wasn't necessarily helping anyone. So I stopped. I am still restless. I want to bake, but know I can't eat it all myself. This stifled urge, not to mention the weather, my two unengaging part-time jobs, and the dullest academic class since I came to the University, has turned me into a character from a Chekhov play: the intelligentsia burdened with the unbearable weariness of being. That's me, a regular Uncle Vanya.

But I digress.

Really, my goal here is to use you, Denizens of the Internets, as the audience to my madness. Sorry, you don't get a choice in the matter. If those physically around me don't want the glorious products of my labour, then maybe you can do something with them instead. Here are some of the cookies I've been making. I'll leave other products for later posts.

Russian Tea Cakes
I've heard these are also called Snowballs, but I shun such plebeian nicknames. They are definitely my favourites so far. Unlike so many other cookies, they are not overly sweet. Despite the fact that you toss the entire cookie in confectioners' sugar after baking, the attractive aspect is instead the amount of butter that you use. A full 2 sticks, creamed to within an inch of their lives, make for a light and delicate texture. And don't skip the pecans! They are a must-have for this simple and delicious bite.
  • 16 tbs (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped fine
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt until very light and fluffy, 3min. Reduce speed to low, add flour, and mix until just combined. Add pecans and mix until evenly distributed. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1hr, or up to 2 days.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place 1,1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until edges are light golden brown, 10-12min, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Cool 5min.

Sift confectioners' sugar into medium bowl. Working with 4-5 warm cookies at a time, gently toss each in sugar to coat. Transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature. Toss cooled cookies once more in remaining sugar to coat.

Molasses-Spice Lemon Cookies
The process of making these cookies is actually a little unappetising. Probably sleep-deprived at the time, we gleefully cackled at how the icing looked like snot and the rolled dough like "little turds!". For those of you not deterred and disgusted, let me convey to you that these are fantastic. I have always liked the [judicious] use of molasses, especially coupled with such spices. The addition, albeit messy, of the lemon filling makes it all the more worthwhile. Citrus-y, spicy, sugary goodness.
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 15 Tbs butter (12 Tbs melted, 3 Tbs softened)
  • 3 Tbs lemon juice
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves in a bowl. In separate bowl, whisk 1,1/2 cups sugar, molasses, egg, and melted butter together until combined. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and stir until incorporated. Chill until dough is firm, 1hr.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place remaining 1/2 cup sugar in bowl. Roll dough into 3/4 inch balls, toss balls in sugar, then place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until tops are just beginning to crack, 8-10min, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Cool 5min, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

Combine remaining 3 Tbs butter, lemon juice, and confectioners' sugar in bowl and whisk until smooth. Spread heaping teaspoon filling over bottoms of half of cooled cookies. Top with remaining cookies and let filling set, 1hr.

Chocolate Turtle Cookies
I confess, I made these principally out of curiosity. I was definitely attracted by the idea of a chocolate cookie, covered in pecans, and with a caramel center. But really, I wanted to find out how well using cannibalised candy as an ingredient would work -- wouldn't the overprocessed, super-sweet goodies affect the outcome of the baked goods? Surprisingly, no; at least, not adversely. The other alluring features of the cookie speak for themselves.
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8 Tbs (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, separated, plus 1 egg white
  • 2 Tbs milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1,1/4 cups pecans, chopped fine
  • 14 soft caramel candies
  • 3 Tbs heavy cream
Combine flour, cocoa, and salt in bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2min. Add egg yolk, milk, and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture until just combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 1hr.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk egg whites in bowl until frothy. Place pecans in another bowl. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, dip in egg whites, then roll in pecans. Place balls 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using 1/2 tsp measure, make indentation in center of each ball. Bake until set, about 12min, switch and rotating sheets half through baking.

Microwave caramels and cream bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, 1-2min. Once cookies are removed from oven, gently re-press existing indentations. Fill each with 1/2 tsp caramel mixture. Cool 10min, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Kale and Seaweed Salad. And Qs about Online Sharing

I’ve written three very different versions of this blog post this week. I thought that I was rejecting drafts because I couldn’t get the voice right, but today it occurred to me that it’s the content that was giving me difficulty. I don’t have an answer to the questions that I’m posing; in fact, I don’t even know if they’re the right questions. So this entry is less of a declarative statement than a snapshot of the ideas swimming in and out of focus in my head. Really, I’d just like to grab a beer and have a spirited debate on the subject. So, imagine your favorite draft in hand and bear with me. And this is a soliloquy only due to the format choice – I really would like to hear your point of view.

Why share personal content online? That is the question. Recipes, photos, anecdotes, opinions, musings. Facebook, flickr, blogspot, twitter, Google Buzz, Google Reader. Why share?

That of course begs the question, “sharing with whom?” Because I update my Mom on my latest adventures for different reasons than I post a recipe for a bunch of (very agreeable) strangers. Or at least I think they’re different reasons.

In no particular order: archiving valuable information (recipes, photos) for easy retrieval, getting feedback and thereby validation on creative attempts, keeping in touch/strengthening relationships with distant friends and family, creating communities out of strangers, enjoying hearing myself talk uninterrupted on my soapbox, immediate attention from a wide audience, “popularity” (albeit highly transient…obsessing over hit rates and comment counts…blogging as a gateway drug…).

Why do you share? I bet your first answer is a highly logical, rational, reasonable one. I’m interested to hear that reason, but I’m also interested in the more subconscious one lying just under the surface.

Realization/Confession: I’m an information junkie. My crack is highly concentrated doses of really high quality content, content that pushes my brain to think slightly differently and makes me want to start a discussion with somebody immediately. A juicy local news item pertaining to a business or neighborhood or government institution that I know. An artistically impressive photo that succeeds in communicating a complex set of feelings. A blog post that not only disseminates a recipe but is able to articulate and therefore pass on the meaning buried in that particular combination of ingredients and technical steps. Or the briefest of high quality content messages -- and these days, one I come across with alarming frequency, the facebook update “X has gotten married.”

Quality. À la Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

This is important, because I’m trying to figure out how I want to use this blog and my flickr space. Whom am I posting for? How much personal detail is too much? How can I create and share compelling content while protecting myself emotionally and honoring the privacy of my loved ones? Ironically, I feel more comfortable sharing terribly intimate musings with perfect strangers than with remote acquaintances who know me in real life.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Oh, and this recipe. One of the best parts about living in a place and in a social circle where vegetables carry no stigma is that we’ve learned to expect them to be fun. This recipe honors the ingredients that go into it, producing something that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s one of those rare reasons to love winter produce, that interminable sea of tough greens. The salad itself is fast, flavorful, and incredibly forgiving: change the ratio of greens to seaweed, supplement kale with chard, add mushrooms to make a hearty lunch… you really can’t go wrong. Believe me: we must have made this recipe 5,000 times while I was in grad school. It’s also vegan; translation: Everybody Will Like It. We bring it to almost every potluck we’re invited to between October and March.

Kale and Seaweed Salad (serves six as a side)

1 bunch Kale or Chard
1/2 cup seaweed flakes ("sea vegetable" - dried or fresh. Our grocery sells dried Wakame flakes in its Asian section.
1 Tbs peeled, minced ginger
1 Tbs minced garlic
1 Tbs toasted sesame seeds
Seasame oil
Soy Sauce

Optional: additional veggies like mushrooms or carrots, sliced.
Optional: 2 serrano peppers, chopped.

If using dried seaweed, let it soak in water 5 - 7 min. Drain and place in the serving bowl. Add 1 tsp sesame oil and the minced ginger.

Soak the Kale in water to loosen any dirt, rinse thoroughly. Chop in 1"x2" strips.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tsp sesame oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and serrano (if using) and gently sauté for 1 min.

Add the Kale and optional supplemental veggies and 3 Tbs Soy sauce. Sauté at high heat, stirring constantly. Alternatively, if not using mushrooms, turn heat to low and cover, cooking gently for 5-10minutes.

Add Kale to serving bowl, add sesame oil and soy sauce to taste. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cheddar-stuffed Challah French Toast served with caramelized Apples and Red Onions

Disclaimer: most of this post was written on December 2, 2010 but I had no camera with which to capture the truly majestic awesomeness of the dish. Kudos to our families for helping me to overcome that particular barrier, and for their ongoing interest in the recipes we recommend here.

It was the most wonderful time of the year, so they say. Twinkling lights, perky tunes, an abundance of invitations to schmooze with semi-strangers juggling alcoholic beverages and green-and-red themed hors d’oeuvre plates. December is also the season of butter and deep-fat fried foods. And I wasn’t sure I was ready for it.

We had had an epic Thanksgiving. There was more food than you could shake a stick at. Do’s sister and brother in law made a superb meal with at least 10 dishes. My father lovingly prepared and FedExed barbequed ribs from Texas. And the whole thing culminated with a glorious 9 course meal carefully arranged by Do and Spuds on Saturday. There was Harissa soup. There were meatballs. (The two together constituted only one course. Yeah. Think about that). It was three full days of indulgences.

In other words, on December 1st my digestive system was ready for Lent, not Advent.

After barely four days to recover, it was time to haul out the festive spirit and deck the halls for Hanukkah, the Holiday of Lights. (The Holiday of Deep Frying would be more apropos, unless by “lights” you mean the inevitable ensuing stovetop flames). Allow me to recommend this for a nontraditional take on the homey comfort that is holiday food: Cheddar-stuffed Challah French Toast served with caramelized Apples and Red Onions.

Let me skip to the punchline: it’s to die for.

The original recipe was published this time last year in the New York Times. As the original cook describes, this dish started as a gussied up grilled cheese for when your family gets sick of latkes, then morphed into something truly festive. It’s essentially a one-pot dish of creamy, cheese-y, custard-y goodness, but savory. It reminds me a lot of the Germanic flavors that my grandmother brought over with her from Prussia and passed on to her progeny, flavors that say “home” and “Christmas” and “Mommy” to me. More than dinner, this dish becomes a way to include my family heritage in celebrating a holiday from Do’s roots.

I made this dish for both the first and second nights of Hannukah (you can tell it was a success!), and this morning we finally settled on a permutation that’s good enough for the archives. We replaced her gruyere with a sharp cheddar (personal preference), added mozzarella for cheese-y gooeyness and goat cheese for unctuous luxurious flavor, caramelized the red onions in the pan along with the apples, and nixed the “stuffing” concept for the “sandwich” concept (way easier to handle, and the flavors are better integrated). With a little bit of mustard, I promise this version is way better.

Cheddar-stuffed French Toast With Caramelized Apples and Red Onions

  • 2 challah hamburger buns, or 4 1/2-inch-thick slices challah bread from middle of loaf. (If in the East Bay, Semifreddi’s is our fav).
  • 4 oz grated Cheddar cheese (about 1 cup)
  • 3 oz grated mozzarella (about ½ cup)
  • 5 oz goat cheese
  • 1 red onion, thickly sliced into half-moons.
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • kosher salt, ground black pepper, olive oil
  • 1 apple, cored, sliced
  • Really good quality French-style mustard.

1. Make the sandwiches: Grate cheddar and mozzarella, combine into one bowl. If using hamburger buns, gently remove “crust” from bottom and top to better allow the bread to soak up the egg. Spread goat cheese on the inside of all bread slices, and tuck as much of the cheddar/mozzarella mixture into the sandwiches as they will bear. Don’t worry if there’s leftover cheese.

2. Transform them into French toast: In a wide, shallow dish, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Carefully, so as not to lose the cheese filling, soak the sandwiches in the egg mixture, turning once halfway through, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 5 minutes.

3. Cook with Glamour. Heat oil in

a large skillet over medium heat. Add the apple slices and the red onion in a single layer and cook for 2 minutes. Push them to the side of the pan and add the bread slices. Cook until bottoms are golden, about 4 minutes. Carefully turn bread and apples and cook until bread is golden and the apples are caramelized, 3 to 5 minutes. Crumble any leftover cheese on top, and serve with mustard.

Yield: 2 servings.