Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cheater Cheater Cookie Eater

In all honesty, the hardest thing about baking, for me, is that first step where I have to actually pry my ass off the sofa and go into the kitchen. Once I start, things usually go along very nicely. I have a lovely stand mixer, which I consider essential for painless baking. No longer do I leave baking until after dinner, instead I do it early in the day (when I have energy), or right before dinner (when I can be prepping something else during the waiting phases). I've learned to wash up while the cookies are in the oven, so that when they come out they are all ready and I have nothing left to do but enjoy. But another thing I do to ensure painless baking is cheat. While I do make ultra complex recipes (Remember the Rugelach?), most of the time, I do something easy for regular baking. And if it isn't easy, I make it easy. When I saw the recipe for Hazelnut Chocolate Thumbprints on Smitten Kitchen, I knew I had to make them. But like many other readers I was shocked to realize that she expected me to grind my own hazelnuts, rather than open a jar of Nutella. Clearly she doesn't know me AT ALL. So I cheated. I took thumbprint cookies and filled them with Nutella, no toasting hazelnuts, no skinning hazelnuts (seriously, a huge pain in the ass), no grinding hazelnuts. Just a stand mixer, a jar and a spoon. And trust me, it is delicious. Who says cheaters never prosper?

inspired by Smitten Kitchen
yield: approximately 24-30 cookies

1 stick plus 5 T butter
2/3 C sugar
2 C flour
1/4 t salt
1 t vanilla
Nutella (I went straight from the jar, but I'm betting I used 1/2 C or less)

Preheat your oven to 350 F. In the stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and salt (really, you should, I on the other hand, sort of sprinkled the salt in the bottom of the measuring cup for the flour and tossed it up a bit, yeah I know). Add the dry ingredients in stages, mixing in between each addition. The dough will not roll itself together, it will seem rather pebbly, but if you press it together with your hands, you'll find it holds together pretty well. I refrigerated mine for 20 minutes, but mainly because I was baking off 2 as samples, I'm pretty sure you don't have to. Roll the dough into small balls (a bit smaller than golf balls, like meatballs maybe?) and place on a baking sheet, I laid down my silpat for this. Then use the back of a teaspoon measuring spoon to indent the top of each. Sometimes they'll kind of fall apart when you do this and look like this:You can fix this problem by sort of smooshing it back together with your fingers until it looks better:
Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Again, all thumbprint recipes I've used called for 20-25 minutes, but mine were browner than I would like at 17 minutes. You should pull them before they are browned on top, just a smidge golden. Let them cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. When they are completely cool, fill with a teaspooon of Nutella per cookie. I used two spoons to get the Nutella off in a relatively neat manner, and had a cup of hot water at the ready for when things got sticky.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cauliflower Gratin

I've been besieged by cheese cravings lately. I may be using the word cheese a little bit loosely, because these cravings unequivocally include a desperate desire for Cheetos (the cheese that goes crunch), but oh, how I love anything cheesy. It's possible this cauliflower gratin may have triggered my recent sufferings. When I opened the oven door the air filled with the most delicious, mouthwatering, buttery cheesy aroma; I was struck by a strong desire to shout "MINE" and push Ryan from the room. Somehow I managed to regain control and actually serve it for dinner. But as I mentioned, I'm still harboring loving thoughts about cheese.

from Ina Garten
Reader: Hey, doesn't gratin mean all cheesy and browned and yummy? Why do you have call it a Cheesy Gratin?
Me: It's just that it's so full of cheesy goodness. I love cheesy goodness. Who asked you anyway?

1 head cauliflower
salt and pepper
4 T butter (2 for sauce, 2 for drizzling over the top)
3 T flour
2 C milk
pinch nutmeg
1 to 1 1/4 C cheddar cheese grated
1/2 C parmesan cheese grated
1/4 C bread crumbs

Preheat your oven to 375 F.
Cut the cauliflower into florets, if you like the stem, you can chop that up into smaller bits to. Fill a large pot with water, salt liberally and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the cauliflower and cook 5-6 minutes until tender enough, but not mushy at all. Remove from heat and drain.
Warm the milk in a small saucepan. In another pan, melt two tablespoons of butter. Add the flour and stir continuously until completely incorporated. Slowly add the warm milk and whisk to keep the sauce nice and smooth. Once the milk is all added, you can add all the cheese bit by bit, holding back 1/4 C of the cheddar for the topping. Stir as you go so the sauce stays smooth. Add the nutmeg, then add salt and pepper the sauce to taste. Get a large baking dish (like a 9x11) and put down a layer of the sauce (use about a third of the sauce). Add your cauliflower to the baking dish. Top with the rest of the sauce. Mix the remaining 1//4 C of cheddar with the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle this mixture over the top of your cauliflower, cover well. Then melt the remaining 2 T of butter (I used the microwave) and drizzle that over the top. Pop in the oven and bake 25-30 minutes.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Small Packages

These lemon cookies are tiny, adorable and delicious.

You know what else is tiny, adorable and delicious?
My best friend's brand new baby girl.

Since there is no way I'm letting you nibble on her (unless of course you are her mother, or have explicit permission from her mother) you'll just have to make do with a recipe for the cookies.

adapted from Real Simple

1/4 C butter (1.5 sticks)
3/4 C sugar
2 large egg yolks
1/2 t vanilla extract (I had a slight pouring mishap and put in a lot too much, no worries, still lovely)
2 t lemon juice
2 C flour (um, I totally lost track of the flour. I either added 1/4 C too little or too much. No idea which, also, still lovely)
for the glaze
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 t grated lemon zest
5/6 C confectioners sugar (although, you may need more, I probably did)

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, vanilla, lemon juice and salt and beat until combined. Gradually add the flour. Divide the dough ( I did it in three sections) and roll into 1 1/4" diameter logs. Mine were somewhat smaller, but all the more adorable for it. Wrap in waxed paper (I was out and used plastic wrap) and refrigerate for 30 minutes (longer if harder makes it easier to cut).

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Slice the logs into 3/8" thick pieces and lay out on parchment (or silpat) covered baking sheets. I found a gentle sawing motion was the best for keeping the logs from becoming too flattened as I sliced. Baking is where things get tricky. I baked mine for 13-14 minutes and they were done. I mean, the first set, at 14 minutes was almost too done in places. The original recipe calls for 16-20 minutes, so please, check them early and pull them if they start to brown. You do NOT want brown lemon cookies. Let rest on the pan for 5 minutes then move to a rack to cool.

I kinda messed up the glaze, because it didn't harden. I have a huge problem getting glazes to harden for me. Never any good at it. Anyway, the recipe tells you to mix 1 C confectioner's sugar with 2 T of lemon juice and the zest to form a "thick but pourable glaze" and then dip the tops of each let harden for 15 minutes. I heated my sugar and juice mixture, dipped and then it never did harden, it's a sticky situation, but just as yummy. Turns out that cookies, like babies can be messy sometimes, but hopefully, delicious enough that they're worth it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tweaked Ziti

The eight year old in me is entirely delighted at anything that involves the merger of mini meatballs and mac & cheese. Especially when the weather is as nasty as it has been on the east coast these past few days. SmittenKitchen was underwhelmed by her version of this, but I could not resist the temptation to tweak.

altered from Smitten Kitchen

for the meatballs
1/8 C bread crumbs
1 lb ground turkey
1 egg
1/4 C ground parmiggiano reggiano
1 clove garlic minced
1 cup flour on a plate
vegetable oil for frying
salt and pepper

for the pasta
1 lb ziti
2 C milk (I used 1 C whole milk, 1 C lowfat)
1/4 C asiago cheese
3/4 C cheddar cheese
3 T butter
3 T flour
salt and pepper

extra 1/4 C or so parmiggiano reggiano

for the meatballs
Mix together the turkey, egg, breadcrumbs, garlic, parm and salt and pepper. Roll into eensy raspberry sized meatballs. This takes some time, but isn't terrible. Then roll those meatballs in the flour and shake off the excess. Smitten recommends doing that by placing the flour coated meatballs in a strainer and shaking, but for me that just make them stick together. I did it by hand. In a large fry pan, pour a nice coating of vegetable oil and turn the heat to medium high. Working batches, cook the meatballs until nicely browned. I did about a minute to two minutes a side. Set the meatballs aside.
for the ziti
Cook according to package directions. Set aside. Save the pot.
for the sauce
Preheat your oven to 400 F.
In your now empty ziti pot, melt the 3 T of butter. Add the flour and whisk well over very low heat. In a separate pot, heat 1.5 C of the milk. Once bubbles form around the edge of the milk, but before it boils, add some slowly to the flour and butter mixture, while continuing to whisk. Once mixture is fairly smooth, continue adding milk a bit at a time, until all is smooth and creamy. Slowly add the grated cheese. Again, whisk until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste.
to assemble
Add the ziti to the sauce and stir gently to coat the pasta. Then carefully add the meatballs. Again, mix carefully. Pour over the last .5 C milk. Transfer to a 9 x 13 greased baking dish (I used two smaller baking dishes so I'd have one to serve for dinner and one to freeze). Top generously with parm and pop in the oven for 15-20 minutes until everything is warm and the top is brown and cheesy.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Crispy Potato Cake

Unless you're my best friend Lizzie (who inexplicably hates potatoes), you are probably already mesmerized by this giant potato cake. You are wondering, Is it a giant latke? Amazingly round hash browns? Oh my friends, it is both. It is neither. It is delectable potatoey goodness, all in a convenient plate sized package. And so easy to make. You could make two. After all you won't want to share. Ryan ate half and then longingly stared at the remaining quarter. Eventually he mumbled forlornly, "I would eat it, but it's yours." I didn't disagree.

modified from Melissa D'Arabian

Two russet potatoes
1/2 a large sweet onion
2 T cooking oil (I used corn)
2 T butter
salt and pepper

Grate the potatoes and onion. Melissa used the attachment on her food processor. I used my old school box grater. She had less work, but I had less to wash. Also, from years of latke making I know I just prefer hand grated potatoes, but I promise not to judge if you take a short cut. In a large non-stick pan, Add a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of butter and melt over medium high heat. Swirl it around so the pan is covered. Add more oil as needed. Press the grated potatoes into the pan, being careful not to burn yourself. You want them to evenly cover the whole surface area. Sprinkle liberally with salt and grate some pepper. Leave it alone, cooking (no peeking) for 8 to 10 minutes. Slide off onto a plate. Add the rest of the butter and oil. Now this is where Melissa got a bit crazy. She waited for her pan to cool for awhile, and then turned it upside over the cake and held the pan and the plate and flipped so the raw potato side was now in the pan. No really, I watched the show. I just flipped that sucker off the plate and into the pan. I did it fast. And it worked fine. Use whatever method makes you less crazy. Cook for another 8-10 minutes until crispy on the outside and meltingly scrumptious on the inside. Ask yourself why you didn't think to add onion. Resolve to try it with onion next time, and report back. As you can see, onion is now officially part of the recipe. Soooo good.

Also Melissa garnished hers with parsley. Parsley is for sissies. We pretended it was a giant latke and ate it with applesauce. I think I would also thoroughly enjoy dollops of sour cream.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Chocolate Cherry Cookies

I feel a bit sorry for these cookies. But I keep holding them up to a standard they cannot possibly attain. My local (absolutely heavenly) bakery makes a chocolate chip sour cherry cookie that is to die for. It's like a regular chocolate chip cookie, except it has large dark chocolate chunks, delicious sour cherries and a somewhat initially alarming, but ultimately amazing sprinkle of sea salt on top. And these are simply not the same. When I took my first bite, I hadn't even made the connection between these and my adored bakery treats, but as soon as I did, oh, I felt sorry.
Quite honestly though, the originals are so good, that even a shadow of their deliciousness is pretty impressive, and these are indeed delicious. Since you probably don't have prior prejudices you'll probably enjoy them very much indeed.

from Cooking Light (for once, not fattened up)

1 C flour
1/3 C unsweetened cocoa
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 C sugar
1/3 C butter, softened
1 t vanilla extract
1 egg
2/3 C dried tart cherries
3 T semisweet chocolate chips (or chopped semisweet chocolate bar) USE GOOD CHOCOLATE!

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Cream the sugar and butter together in a large bowl. Add the vanilla and the egg and beat until incorporated. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Slowly add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar while mixing well. When that is well mixed, fold in the cherries and chocolate bits. I like to do the cherries and chocolates by hand even if I use my stand mixer for the rest, in order to keep them from being overly smushed. Roll into small balls (about a tablespoon's worth) Place on a lightly greased cooking sheet (or a cooking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat mat so you don't have to grease it). Bake at 350 for 12 minutes or until set (in my fast bake always runs hot oven, this was only 9 minutes, so be wary!) Let them cool on the sheet pan for five minutes, then transfer to a rack and bake your next batch. In a complete shocker, the recipe claims to make about 30 cookies, and it actually made about 30 cookies!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fake Falafel

For a long time, I've felt that I simply could not give you this recipe. You see, despite my utter adoration for the movie Party Girl in which a crazy club going Parker Posey falls for a falafel vendor, I have never actually eaten real falafel. So how can I possibly rave about this recipe when I don't know what the original is supposed to taste like? It feels wrong. This is delicious stuff however, and I figured you could decide for yourself.

courtesy of Sara Moulton

1 can chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
1/4 t cayenne (I use a smidge more)
1 t cumin
1/2 t coriander (I always skip this)
3 T flour
1/2 t baking soda
1 egg (lightly beaten)
panko bread crumbs
4-5 T olive oil
salt and pepper

tahini sauce (bought from store)
lettuce, cucumber, tomato - whatever you'd like to garnish
pita bread

In a large frying pan, heat up a tablespoon of the oil and add the onions. Cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat until the onions are golden and soft. While this is cooking, take a 1/4 C of the canned chickpeas and use a food processor to blend them very coarsely. Add the garlic, cayenne, cumin and coriander. Cook for 2 more minutes. Remove to a large bowl and add the blended chickpeas. Wipe out the pan because you'll use it again in a few minutes. Put the remaining chickpeas in the food processor and grind them into a fine meal. Add this to the onion/chickpea mixture. Add about 1 t salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Add the flour, baking soda and egg and mix well with a fork. Form into 4 patties. Coat each patty with the panko. Add another tablespoon or so of oil to the pan and increase the heat to medium high. Cook the patties for 6-8 minutes on each side, until warmed through and crust is crispy. You can add oil halfway through if needed. When done, place patty into pita bread and garnish with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and a drizzle of tahini.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bleak Midwinter

Over the past few weeks, snow has fallen, snow on snow, until I've forgotten that I ever knew what spring was like. The first February blizzard left me charmed as I reveled in the beauty of snow covered city. The second made me giddy as a child as I nestled in for two days off work. This latest storm has found me resigned. Spring will not be coming soon. There is only one thing to do. Make soup.I cannot tell you how much we mmmmmed and yummed while eating this. I felt downright guilty for not making it sooner this year. I confess that I made the stock from scratch this time. (Have you looked outside? There's nothing else to DO!)

from SmittenKitchen
for meatballs
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 C bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 C parmesan cheese
16 oz turkey
2 T water
3/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
parsley (seriously? I don't have parsley!)
for soup
8 cups chicken stock (I made my own - SO GOOD)
1 cup carrots, sliced into coins
3/4 cup orzo
4 cups escarole, cleaned and chopped
meatballs (see above)

Combine the egg, the breadcrumbs, and the water and mix. Pop in the fridge for 5 minutes. Remove from fridge and add the garlic, salt and pepper, the parm and the turkey. Mix gently until well combined. Form small meatballs (sized somewhere between ping-pong ball and golf ball?) and place on a cookie sheet, like so: Stick the whole pan in the fridge for 30 minutes. While the meatballs are chilling, chop your carrots and get your orzo ready. When you have about 10 minutes of chill time to go, bring your stock to a boil and add the carrots and orzo. Reduce the temperature to get a low simmer and cook for 8 minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer for 10 more minutes. Finally, add the escarole and cook for 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper as needed. Ladle into bowls. Make lots of mmming noises.


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