Thursday, September 30, 2010

I've been waiting on these

I am deeply ambivalent about these candies - on the one hand, they are delicious. On the other hand, they burned my finger and I had to sit with it soaking in an ice bath for two hours because it hurt so bad. But ultimately, I decided that you deserve to know about it. Also I have no other pictures of anything to post. I suck lately.

Chocolate Covered Almonds - from Serious Eats

1 1/2 cups whole almonds
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons cocoa powder

These are great because they're so much more complex than just regular chocolate covered almonds. The cinnamon sugar level is truly addictive. They make a great snack.

Preheat oven to 325°F and toast almonds on a baking sheet for approximately 6 to 8 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, cook the warm almonds, sugar, water, salt and cinnamon over medium heat until the almonds begin to have a dry and sandy sugar coating. Be sure to stir the almonds constantly to prevent them from caramelizing. I'm not sure I ever got to the dry sandy coating place - but they still were fine.

Spread the sugar-coated almonds onto a baking sheet and place in the refrigerator to cool, approximately 20 minutes.

By no means should you touch one of the hot almonds with your finger to see if they're cool yet. They're not and you will probably get a super painful second degree burn on your finger like I did because I am stupid. Oh well.

While the almonds are cooling, melt the chocolate over a double boiler (or you know, a pot of simmering water with a metal bowl in it. Or the microwave. Whatever).

Transfer the cooled almonds to a large mixing bowl and add the melted chocolate. Gently stir until completely coated with chocolate, then spread onto a baking sheet. Cover the baking sheet with parchment paper for easy clean up.

Place the chocolate-covered almonds in the refrigerator to set, approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Once the chocolate coating has hardened, transfer the almonds to a large mixing bowl and add the cocoa powder (or put them in the jar you're going to keep them in, add the cocoa powder and shake it). Gently toss the nuts until well coated. Store in the refrigerator or a very cool, dry place until ready to serve.

I know they don't look like much, but these are great. I kept them in the fridge and kept eating one or two as a special treat - which is kind of dangerous in a way. Whoops. But they're gone now. Problem solved.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Really good dip

So a while ago, I had some friends over for dinner and I served chopped liver as an appetizer. I've done this in the past and certain friends are never too thrilled about this. I guess not everyone likes organ meat as much as Zack does. Crazy people. But in deference to them, I decided to make another dip that is liver-free - roasted red pepper dip. Also, I had about five red peppers in the bottom of my fridge that I need to use.

1 15-ounce can of white cannelini or navy beans
1 small jar roasted red peppers, or about 1 cup, drained - or roast your own red peppers!
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice from half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

If you want to roast your own peppers, it's super easy. Just heat your over to 400 degrees, throw your peppers on a baking sheet and roast them until soft (about 45 minutes). Once they're soft, just throw them in a bowl and cover the top with a plate or a lid. After about 15 minutes, the steam will have loosened the skins and they'll be cool enough to remove the skins (just use your hands. It'll be fine). But if you don't want to do that - just buy a jar and go nuts.

Take all the ingredients and throw them in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth and garnish with some fresh herbs like parsley or chives to make it look pretty. Serve with crackers.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I promise to update soon....

....if you donate to Arts for All. I have to raise $1000 so that tiny children can see an amazing play and be enriched artistically. You know you want to help me.

Thanks :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Computer mishigas

This week we've been switching computers around, meaning that all my files have been flying around in cyberspace, from hard drive to portable drive and back. I've finally gotten some semblance of my regular set up back, so here we go - it's cookie time.

I've had this recipe bookmarked for ages. Not having a stand mixer held me back from trying it, but no more! I know have everything I could possibly need for baking amazingness.

Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies, via Smitten Kitchen

- a funny side note about these cookies - I had a friend try to make them awhile back and they turned out terribly for him. "This recipe didn't work," he told me. "Why not?" I asked. "Well, I didn't have a stand mixer," he said. "Hmmmm..." My brain started whirring and clicking. "Also, I didn't chill the dough." He admitted finally. Enough said. I am happy to report that with a stand mixer and three hours of dough chilling, these cookies turned out perfect and amazing.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together (or, you know, skip this step. I totally did).

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more (this is why you need a stand mixer. 2 minutes on a stand mixer is like forever by hand).

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour mixture (you know, flour/cocoa and baking soda) - cover your mixer with a kitchen towel or the flour cover that your mixer comes with - pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about one inch between them.

My picture is of the log after I cut most of it. Whoops! I always forget to take my pictures.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done but that's okay! You just have to take it on faith that they are. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are just barely warm. Then eat them.

The cookies are delicious, kind of like chocolate shortbread but better. They are a great accompaniment to a train ride up to tomato weekend! They are worth the effort for sure.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Boo to Fall

As September starts and summer comes to a close, I find myself in a funk. I love summer and I hate winter. I don't mind fall, but I know that winter is just around the corner and there will be no more sunshine, swimming, barbecues or fresh local vegetables. So at this time, I try to make as much of my favorite summer comfort food as I can. This is my all time favorite. I've made it for years, but it's never shown up on the blog. I'm not sure why.

Pasta A La Norma - adapted initially from the Gourmet Cookbook, but i haven't looked at the actual recipe in ages

1 small eggplant (or 2 Japanese ones)
1 28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes (or several fresh ones, peeled. Oh summer)
lots of olive oil
fresh basil
pasta of your choice
ricotta cheese

1. Heat some olive oil over high heat. Slice up your eggplant and shallow fry it on each side in batches. You want the olive oil to get soaked up into the eggplant and for the eggplant slices to turn golden brown. You'll have to keep adding more oil as you cook because eggplant is like an olive oil sponge.

2. Salt and pepper the eggplant slices and set aside. Don't skimp on the salt.

3. Add the tomatoes to the pan with the olive oil, turn down the heat to medium and add some salt (you could add a little sugar too, to help the tomatoes break down). They have to cook for a while - about 20 minutes is good, so that they really break down into a rich sauce. You can cook the pasta at this time as well. Stir occasionally and don't let the tomatoes stick or burn.

4. Chop up the eggplant into chunks and add to the sauce.

5. Add the basil on top - torn, chopped, whatever.

6. Add the pasta to the sauce and mix to combine. Serve with a dollop of creamy ricotta cheese.

This is one of my all time favorite meals. It's a great vegetarian entree. The eggplant is meaty and delicious and the fresh tomato sauce is an awesome summer treat. The ricotta is a cool change from salty Parmesan (although that is good too). I would eat this every day.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tomato Weekend!

Last year, Zack and I got married. For a wedding present, my friend Blake gave me two jars of homemade tomato sauce. Initially, I'll admit, my first thought was "well, I can make tomato sauce." But then I tasted it. My next thought was "how do I get me some more of that?" When I said that out loud to Blake, she invited me (and Meredith!) to what she called "tomato weekend" where her family and lots of other Italian people get together for a whole weekend to make tomato sauce, eat amazing food and drink wine. There was no way I was missing that.

Here's my basic rundown of tomato weekend. On Friday night, you wash 2500 pounds of tomatoes.

That is not even close to all the tomatoes. You dump them in giant basins of water -

- scrub the dirt off with your hands -

- and put them in laundry baskets/bins.

This is also not all the tomatoes. The tomatoes never end.

Then you drink a lot of wine, eat pizza and salad, watch several episodes of True Blood and go to bed.

The next morning, the men wake up at 4:30am and set up all the equipment. At 10:00am, they all start drinking again.

The women seem to wake up around 7:00am and get to work. First, you blanch the tomatoes (in those metal pots in back).

Then you poke them with a really long stick.

Girls aren't supposed to do the poking, but Meredith and I snuck our way in.

Then you push the tomatoes through an electric food mill.

One person pushes with a weird plastic stick thing.

Another person makes sure the machine stays running and clean.

Meredith sat here all day and her pants slipped down a little because she wasn't wearing a belt. Blake's mom gave her this dish rag to cover her butt with. Meredith was embarrassed at first, but then it caught on and she was way proud of it.

We had a special name for it. It's not fit to print.

(Okay, we called it the slut rag. But when the adults asked, we called it a modesty rag so as not to seem crude and slutty.)

Anyway, you have to run the tomatoes through the machine three more times until there's just skins and seeds.

Then the tomato puree that came out of the food mill gets boiled down with basil and salt.

This is all a really messy process. See those stains?

See our hands?

And my foot?

And my ring?

Yeah, it's silly.

Anyways, you put some basil in a jar, pour the boiling hot sauce in them -

- screw the lid on and flip them over so that it makes suction.

Do that whole process for 2500 pounds of fresh local tomatoes and 12 cases of jars. We worked for over 12 hours. Blake's mom was really proud of us and gave us awards.

That's Michael. He got an award too, but not one that was as cool as mine and Meredith's.

Did I mention the food? When you put a lot of Italians in a house together, they cook all this for lunch.

There were amazing stuffed peppers, stuffed mushrooms, caprese salad, calamari salad, chicken cutlets, mussels - I can't even name it all. It was so delicious. And that was just lunch.

This was dinner.

The first sauce of the season with ravioli tasted even better after we worked all day (and drank all day - Italians have crazy stamina).

Thanks to Blake and her family for letting us crash tomato weekend! We had the best time (and now we have three jars each of freshly made sauce - I'm not sharing, so don't ask).