Tuesday, December 29, 2009

When people complain for five years, sometimes I listen

As you may know, I make a lot of different kinds of cookies. I pride myself on my cookie-making ability and I have received many compliments over the years. But I have this guy who lives in my house - he's kind of a picky husband type - and no matter what kind of cookie I make, we have this following exchange:

Zack: These cookies are great, honey!
Me: Thanks.
Zack: But you know what would be really great? If you could make kolacky (a type of czech cookies) like my mom does.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Zack would like me to point out that I may be exaggerating. But not that much). So this Christmas, I decided to bite the bullet and ask his mom if she would teach me how to make kolacky. She very happily agreed (she's super nice) and here are the results of the teaching.

First, she pulled out this card.

This doesn't look that informative. But onward we go. First you take a pound of butter. Yes, a pound. That's four sticks. If my dad is reading this, you may want to avert your eyes. I know how you feel about butter.

Then you add an 8oz package of cream cheese and cream it together until it's all mixed up smoothly. Zack's mom is really really good at this part. She doesn't use a mixer or anything! She uses a wooden spoon and that's it.

I might use a mixer next time. Don't tell.

Then you slowly mix in the salt, sugar and flour, still using just your wooden spoon. You want to do this in batches so that it all gets incorporated in equally and so that flour doesn't fly everywhere and it you in the face. Divide your dough into four equal balls.

Then roll each ball into a log.

Wrap it in wax paper and freeze it overnight.

When you take our your dough the next day, thaw it for a little bit, then you're going to slice it into disks like this.

Then you pinch each disk to make sure it's malleable and roll each disk into a ball. Put them on a cookie sheet and smush your thumb in each one so there's a little well for you to put filling it.

Filling! Zack's mom buys the Solo brand pie filling. It comes in a can. I would usually never even consider using canned pie filling (because I am such a food snob), but Zack's mom uses it and it tastes good, so phooey on me (she also used those premade cans of french fried onions on top of a casserole. I hated myself for liking it so much).

But I digress.

So, spoon a little bit of filling (we got cherry and raspberry) into each thumb shaped well in your cookie.

Then you bake them at 350 degrees for awhile. Zack's mom said to bake them until the bottom of the cookie is golden brown. This is hard to check. I'm guessing it's in the 10-18 minute range.

Once the cookies are out of the oven, roll them in powdered sugar! They're all done.

These taste AMAZING fresh out of the oven. I've only ever had them about three days old and cold before and I was never a huge fan. But Zack likes them cold. He's crazy.

Anyways, they are good but hard to pronounce. I just call them "czech cookies." That way nobody laughs at me.

I can pronounce it when someone else says it first and then imitate them, but I can't sound it out. This is especially funny when you consider that I teach kids how to sound things out for a living. Maybe I should bake cookies for a living instead.

Thanks, Margie for passing on the recipe! Yum yum.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Xmas to all, and to all a good night

Merry Xmas! I promise to post more recipes next week. For now, enjoy spending time playing Rock Band with your teenage relatives, eating cookies and/or watching movies and eating Chinese food. Here's the view from my window:

Yes, I have an 18 inch fake tree. I can have a tree if I want! I'm a grown-up now. So there.

To be honest, I'm a little scared of having a real tree. We never had one when I was a kid. Well, we had a "real" tree, but it was the potted palm tree that lived in our house and eventually died. Such is your childhood when your parents are Jewish-Buddhist hippies.

In the spirit of the holidays, I'll leave you with my favorite family Christmas story. It's about my dad.

My dad does not like Christmas. He delights in nothing more than grumbling “Bah, humbug!” at people as they hang up decorations. So I was quite surprised one day when I walked in on my dad and my little sister watching the original “Miracle on 34th Street” on TV. “You hate Christmas. What are you watching this for?” I asked him. “Shhhh!” he said. “It’s a classic.” I sat down and joined them. It was almost the end of movie, and the big climatic scene where the lawyer, Fred Gailey, is proving that Santa Claus exists. The mailmen are dumping bag after bag of letters addressed to Santa Claus on the judge’s desk, and all of a sudden, I heard a sniff. I turned around to see my dad sniffling with tears in his eyes! Filled with shock and a huge desire to bust up laughing, I spit out, “Are you crying at a Christmas movie?” My dad cried out, “He’s just such a good lawyer!”

Have a great holiday weekend!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

We wish you the happiest, the happiest

So this year, my friend Anna had swine flu on Thanksgiving Day and she didn't get to go home to her family for the big meal. Her very nice husband Alan cooked her a Thanksgiving meal at home, because he's so nice, but Thanksgiving for two is just not the same in my opinion. So, I decided to make a Thanksgiving dinner for the four of us - Anna, Alan, Zack and me! Here we all are, very holiday spirited.

This was a wonderful opportunity to cook all the food that my family doesn't like that I didn't get to make on Thanksgiving. Cornbread stuffing! Turnip gratin! Brussels sprouts with pancetta! Plus, I got to break out all my new wedding presents - plates, champagne flutes, serving dishes, etc. Here is all the food I cooked.

Yes, I cooked that much food for four people. I think I have problems.

I figured that this would be a good time to break out some recipes! I'm starting with dessert. I got to use my new tart pan (thanks, Jaclyn!).

Mixed Berry Tart

1/2 recipe tart dough (you can buy it premade from the store - frozen pie crust or puff pastry - I won't tell. Or judge. I'm nice now)
8 oz marcarpone cheese
1/4 cup light cream
powdered sugar
Berries of your choice! I did a mix of blueberries and raspberries

Push your tart dough into a tart pan (or a pie pan, that's okay too). Cover the dough with tin foil or parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. This is so the dough won't bubble up when you bake it. Bake it at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes. Remove the weights and foil and bake it for another 5-7 minutes until it is golden brown. Let it cool completely.

Put your mascarpone (have you had this? It's like amazing Italian cream cheese) and cream in a bowl and whip it until it's stiff (insert your own joke here if you want). Add some powdered sugar to taste (that means add a lot if you want it sweet and less if you don't) and mix it in.

Spread the cream into the tart and place the berries on top. Sift some powdered sugar on top. If you have patience/time, put it in the fridge and let it set. If you don't (and God knows, I don't), just eat it!

Have a great holiday! If I have time, I'll put up some more holiday recipes fast!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Still in the holiday spirit

So, this year I have no money (whoops!). Luckily, I can make presents for the holidays, and as far as I can tell, people like them. Along with those salted chocolate caramels from last week, some lucky folks are also getting my own creation - Candy Cane Fudge.

I wanted something to compliment the chocolate candy - and maybe something festive looking. I may have gone a little overboard, but gosh darn it, I like it. This not a highbrow creation - there are marshmallows in it! And candy canes! And colored sugar sprinkles! But it tastes good.

Candy Cane Fudge

4 Cups mini marshmallows
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter (although I just realized I used an entire stick last time - whoops)
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
12 oz. white chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
10 candy canes, crushed (I like to put them in a ziploc bag, press the air out and whack it with a hammer. I like any cooking project where I get to use a hammer)
Red and green sugar for sprinkling

Combine marshmallows, evaporated milk, butter, sugar and salt in a large pot.

Cook and stir until it comes to a full boil.

Boil for 5 minutes (exact) over medium heat, stirring constantly. Try not to let it burn.

Remove from heat and add white chocolate chips.

Beat until chips are melted.

Add about half of your crushed candy canes and mix it in. Pour into a greased pan (I used a 9.5 inch pie plate for the first batch and a kind of sheet pan that was on the small size below.)

I liked it. You can use whatever you want - I like it to spread out so it's kind of thin, but you can use a smaller pan if you want it thicker.

Chill in the fridge until it's firm enough to cut (give it a few hours at least). After that, you don't have to keep it chilled - it will be okay at room temperature.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Happy Hannukah!

Are you tired of the same old thing? Bored with regular latkes? Well, then hop on over to the sweet potato aisle of the supermarket and jazz things up a bit. I have made some absolutely delicious latkes made with not plain old russet potatoes but beautiful orange-y sweet potatoes. My world will never be the same.

Now, with latkes, I never know how many potatoes equal 1 pound, so the ratio tends to get messy. But latkes are fried potatoes that you put sour cream on! They're going to taste good. Don't stress.

Sweet Potato Latkes

1 pound sweet potatoes (I used many many more than this)
1 onion - at least (if you like more onions, add more. If you like less, add less)
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
vegetable oil (or canola if you want to be heart healthy) for frying.

Peel your potatoes and skin your onion. Grate your potatoes! Grate your onion! If you have a food processor, this will be super easy and if you don't, well it will take a little longer. Use a box grater. People have done it for thousands of years and you can too!

Mix all the ingredients together (except the oil) and you've got your latke batter!

Heat your oil over moderately high heat (you want it hot, but not smoking). Drop about 1/4 cup of batter down. That's one latke. Do that a few more times - I wouldn't do more than 3 or 4 at a time or your pan will get overcrowded and the pancakes won't brown (which is lame). When they get brown on one side (give it a couple minutes and then cheat and check by lifting one up with a spatula), flip it to the other side. Let that side get brown and then remove it from the heat and lay it on paper towels so that the excess oil drains off.

You can keep them warm in the oven or just eat them right away! Serve with sour cream and applesauce. You can make your own applesauce if you have a food mill. I'll get to it on another post.

Monday, December 7, 2009

No more failure candy

If you were around me the week before Thanksgiving, you probably heard me complain about my candy making skills quite a bit. I was all set to show you how I can make candy like a pro (not that I've ever done it before, but I own a candy thermometer now, so look out world, here I come). I made a caramel base and poured it into a pan and waited for it to set. And set it did - like a freaking rock. Needless to say, I was crushed.

I tried to call it toffee and play it off (if I've learned anything from Top Chef, it's that you have to pretend that you meant to do whatever your dish ended up as all along - don't say "oh, I meant to do this but I failed." The judges hate that), but deep down, I knew that I had failed to made caramels successfully. They tasted like failure. Deep depressing failure. I tried to salvage them. I covered them in chocolate and nuts and broke it into pieces. But the pieces were too thick to happily bite through. I ended up smashing all the pieces with a hammer and baking them into cookies (which I called "failure cookies," but everyone seemed to like them anyways).

But if at first you don't succeed, try try again! So on Friday night, I decided to try again (I live a wild and crazy life here in New York City - I stay in on Friday nights and make caramels while I watch TV specials on Disney animation. I'm so cool). I made salted chocolate caramels - I found a recipe in an old issue of Gourmet magazine (RIP Gourmet). I figured that maybe the chocolate would help keep it from turning to bedrock. And it did!

Salted Chocolate Caramels - from Gourmet Magazine, 2006

2 cups heavy cream
10 1/2 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped (I used Ghiradelli chocolate chips - no chopping)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt such as Maldon (Becky gave me some as a wedding present! Yay!)
Vegetable oil for greasing

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch straight-sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment (I just used one big piece. I'm lazy and economical).

Bring cream just to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, then reduce heat to low and add chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat.

Bring sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt to a boil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, uncovered, without stirring but gently swirling pan occasionally, until sugar is deep golden, about 10 minutes. Tilt pan and carefully pour in chocolate mixture (mixture will bubble and steam vigorously).

Continue to boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 255°F on thermometer, about 15 minutes (my candy thermometer said I was only at 175 degrees, but last time I cooked caramel, it got to "245" but then set like a rock. So I didn't bother following the directions this time. I think my thermometer is defective). Add butter, stirring until completely melted, then immediately pour into lined baking pan (do not scrape any caramel clinging to bottom or side of saucepan). Let caramel stand 10 minutes, then sprinkle evenly with sea salt. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours.

Carefully invert caramel onto a clean, dry cutting board, then peel off parchment. Turn caramel salt side up. Lightly oil blade of a large heavy knife and cut into 1-inch squares.

Note: The caramels are very very soft. I was so happy I could cut them but they were actually almost too soft. After the two hours, I put them in the freezer for awhile to get it to more of a cuttable consistency. They are still soft now, but tasty! Next time, maybe I'll try to bump up the temperature a little more.

But they worked! Here they all, all wrapped up next to my "Don't Mess with Texas" mug (a present from Meredith).

And here's one perfect little square.

Be prepared to get some of these for Xmas presents! I can't eat all these by myself.

Friday, December 4, 2009

I love butchers

If you know me, you might know that I am a huge Julie Powell fan. She wrote Julie and Julia (did you see that movie? I love Meryl) and basically does what I do - she cooks, she blogs, she eats too much butter and has a very wonderful husband who is very well fed, but sometimes driven crazy by his wife. So when I heard that she had written a new book called Cleaving, I went right to the store and bought it (it came out on Tuesday but I didn't finish it until last night - I think that shows tremendous restraint on my part).

It's a little darker than her last book (okay, a lot darker). She writes about her affair (poor husband) and her world travels and most importantly, her apprenticeship at a butcher shop in Kingston, NY. If you don't like to read about animals getting methodically cut to bits and women cheating on their very nice husbands, don't read this book. But if you can handle all that, I enjoyed it a lot.

But this is not a book review! It's a cooking blog. All this was to say, I was inspired to go to my local butcher shop today and get some beef stew meat for dinner. The butcher cut it into nice chunks for me. If you only ever buy meat from the grocery store, get out and try a butcher immediately. It tastes better. That's all you need to know.

Here's how to make a lazy beef stew -

Season your meat with salt and pepper. You could also use other seasonings - I threw some Trader Joe's 21 spice salute or something on it for variety. Brown it in a few tablespoons of hot oil (I used olive oil) and remove to a plate.

Brown some vegetables in the oil - I threw in whatever was in my fridge - onions, carrots, garlic, celeriac (kind of like celery, but looks like a potato), and an apple (I have so many apples).

Pour in some red wine (not too much, about a cup or so) and bring it to a boil, scraping up all the yummy brown bits on the bottom of the pan.

Add the meat back into the pot, enough beef stock (or chicken stock or water - whatever you have) and some root vegetables (you know potatoes and such - I added some potatoes and sweet potatoes, cut into chunks). I added some tomato paste as well, but normally I'd add some canned tomatoes. But I ran out of those. Whoops.

Bring the whole thing to a boil, then turn the heat down and cover the pot. Simmer for an hour or so. Taste it to see if needs more salt or pepper. Eat on the couch while watching Parks and Recreation.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I get your message loud and clear

So, I was in California last week. It was beautiful weather, good food and constant berating about how I don't blog enough. I get it! Someone is actually reading. I will update - now.

I've had this one in the works for awhile. Some of you may know that I grew up with hippie vegetarians. This meant that while we ate a lot of tofu and salad and pesto pasta (my brother and sister's favorite food at various times), we never had things like pot roast or meatloaf. The first time I ever ate meatloaf I was 25 years old and I made it myself. It was a classic recipe and I didn't care for it - the flavor of ketchup was too strong and it seemed like a weird flashback from the '50's.

But then! I came across this Italian version of meatloaf from the Gourmet Cookbook (one of my favorites - Ruth Reichl is my idol). It was amazing! It's like a giant meatball with hints of lemon and fresh parsley. It was tricky but I've already made it again since I took these pictures.

Polpettone! From the Gourmet Cookbook

4-6 slices Italian bread, crusts discarded (I used garlic focaccia - it had roasted garlic cloves in it and was amazing)
1 cup whole milk
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground veal (I've also used 2 pounds of turkey instead of red meat. Works great)
2 eggs, beaten
3 oz thin sliced pancetta, chopped
3/4 cup grated parmesan (use the good stuff - if you use the kind in the green Kraft can, I will come to your house and cry)
1/3 cup chopped parsley (flat leaf!)
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 Tbs olive oil
1 cup dry wine wine (I've been using "honey moon" from Trader Joe's - it rocks)

So! Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Soak the bread in milk for 10 minutes.

Combine the meat, eggs, pancetta, cheese, parsley, zest, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Squeeze the bread (one handful at a time) to remove the excess milk - not all of it, just some and chop it, then add it to the meat.

Mix it up! Use your hands until it's combined but try not to overmix it. Make it into a weird football shape.

Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat. Brown the football shaped meat mixture on all sides. You may have to use two spatulas to flip it - this thing is big. Transfer it to a plate. Mine broke into pieces and I cried, then mushed it back together. So the meatloaf is now on a plate and the skillet is full of yummy brown bits and fat and stuff.

Pour the wine in the skillet and bring it to a boil for a minute.

Stir and scrape the pan so that all the brown bits get unstuck to the bottom. Return the meatloaf to the skillet (mine broke again and I cried again. Zack said it would still taste good and that I should calm down. He was right). Bake the meatloaf in the skillet for about 45 minutes.

Transfer the meatloaf to a plate again! It's worth it, I promise. Cover it with foil (loosely) for about 10 minutes.

Pour the pan juices through a fine mesh sieve (this would normally scare me off - but I did it!) into a small bowl. Cut the meatloaf into slices and serve with the pan juices.

I served it with mashed potatoes and roasted fennel and sauteed watercress. I went a little overboard, but it was a really nice meal. You should make it! I messed it up a bunch of times and it turned out great. Plus, the second time I made it, it was much easier.