Saturday, February 28, 2009

We made Lemon-Basil Gimlets!

Hi.  This is Hillary's brother, and I have a recipe for you.  Normally, I wouldn't describe making a cocktail as cooking, but this actually involved applying heat to ingredients, so I think we'll count it.  Besides, they were delicious.

First you have to make the Lemon-Basil simple syrup.  Here's the recipe:
  • 4 cups packed fresh basil sprigs
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 9 (4 by 1 inch) strips of lemon zest (I ended up with lots of smaller strips, but it served the same purpose... these are really tasty after they come out of the syrup, by the way)
Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Then let stand at room temperature, covered, 1 hour.  Then transfer to air tight container and chill until cold, about 1 hour. Strain into a bowl, then squeeze solids to get out extra liquids.  Syrup will keep in fridge up to 5 days.

  • 1 cup Lemon Basil syrup
  • 3/4 cup vodka (we put a little extra splash of vodka into the glasses... they're a little sweet as is)
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • Ice cubes
  • Basil sprigs for garnish
Stir together all ingredients in a pitcher until cold, then strain into 8 to 10 ounce glasses half-filled with ice.

Bad camera phone pictures of mason jars filled with the syrup:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I made profiteroles on Oscar night!

This past Sunday, I cooked dinner for Lauren, Martha, and Morgan--pasta pesto, pasta vodka, an arugula salad with goat cheese and dried cherries--and decided the perfect dessert for such a fancy-shmancy night would be profiteroles (well, initially I thought just creme puffs, but I really got in the mood and decided to go all out). I made them with a classic creme puff batter, homemade vanilla ice cream, and a chocolate ganache sauce to top it all off. The results were deliiiiiiiicious.

Pastry Shells

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup water
1 cup flour (well sifted!)
4 extra large eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. In a medium saucepan, over medium-high heat, cook the butter and water together until the butter has dissolved. Let the water/butter come to a slight boil. Remove from heat.
3. Off the heat, add your flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until a dough has formed (it will ball around the spoon fairly quickly).
4. Then, one at a time, add your eggs. After each egg, stir like the dickens! It will get harder and harder to stir as you add each egg, but don't give up! Keep at it, switch arms if you have to, because you need to whip in a lot of air. Once all the eggs are added and the batter pulls away from itself (you will hear sort of sighs of air as the batter separates with successive stirs), then it's about done. This entire process should take about six minutes or so.
5. On a very lightly buttered/sprayed baking sheet (there's so much butter in these already that you probably don't need more for the sheets but I do it just in case), use two spoons to place a nice sized ball onto the tray (think the size of an egg in its shell--with the spoons, it'll sort of resemble that oval shape too. You can also make these bigger if you'd like, they'll cook just the same.)
6. Let the pastry shells bake for about 20 minutes. Don't check them too soon because they might fall (which isn't a big deal - they are still really good, but might make you a little sad to see them flat instead of puffy). Once they are somewhere between golden and dark brown, shut the oven off.
7. Leave the puffs in there for about 5 minutes, then take out to cool. Make tiny slits in each puff so the steam escapes!
8. Once the puffs are cool, slice them almost entirely in half horizontally, scoop in some vanilla ice cream, and top with ganache and serve!

Vanilla Ice Cream
If you don't have an ice cream maker, just go to get some good vanilla ice cream. I did it myself just to show off.

2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1 1/2 cups milk, chilled
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract (or an inch of vanilla bean, but who the hell wants to spend $7 on one bean!?)
sugar (I tend to use very little sugar, like less than 1/4 cup, but you can use up to 3/4 of a cup if you like your ice cream sweet)

Mix it all up, whisk until the sugar goes bye bye, and then throw it in your ice cream maker for 25 minutes!

Chocolate Ganache

8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (chips, bars, whatev)
1/4 cup of heavy cream

1. In a double boiler--like, an inch of boiling water in a saucepan with a glass bowl positioned over it--begin to melt the chocolate over low-medium heat.
2. Drizzle in the heavy cream.
3. Stir until it's all mixed and glossy and looks so amazing you want to bathe in it.
4. Take off the heat, and while stirring, drizzle generously over the ice cream-stuffed pastry shell.
5. Eat 'em.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I made veggie dumplings!

I have made these a few times before for potlucks and parties, and just yesterday to bring to a Lost party. The hosts, our friends Nick and Faryl, have lots of potlucks all the time, but I have never been able to bring anything homemade because I am usually coming from work. But this week I am off from school so I decided I would finally change this. Veggie dumplings are not only an ideal food to bring to a party (delicious finger food, impressive looking, and easy to transport in a tupperware all the way from Brooklyn to the upper west side), they are a fun project, especially on a quiet rainy weekday afternoon. Once I brought these to a party in a recycled takeout container, and people did not believe I didn't get them from a restaurant!

They are not difficult to make, but they are time consuming. In the past, I've always had helpers--these are good to make in an assembly-line, but this time I was all on my own, and it took a couple of hours.

Here is the recipe, which I have adapted from so many random recipes on the internet that I will just rewrite it here:

Vegetarian Dumplings (or "Pot Stickers")

1 package wonton or pot sticker skins
1 red onion, sliced
1 red or green cabbage, shredded
1 cup shredded carrot
1 1/2 cup shitake mushroom, sliced thinly
1 T fresh ginger, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 T sesame oil
Vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup cilantro
1 t white pepper
*This was the first time I've made this with red cabbage, and maybe I'm imagining it, but it seemed like green cabbage cooks down a lot more. So I had a LOT of filling. Way more than could fit in all my wonton skins. But the red cabbage has a nice texture and is aesthetically pleasing--especially when you cook the dumplings and the skins get translucent. Next time I might use half a red cabbage and more mushrooms.

3/4 c soy sauce
1 T rice vinegar
1 T sesame oil
1 T thinly sliced scallion
1 t fresh ginger, finely chopped

To make the filling:
Heat some oil in a large frying pan or wok, and add the ginger, garlic and onion. Cook until the onion starts to brown a little. Add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes, stirring often. And the cabbage, carrots and scallions, season with the white pepper and salt, and cook until the cabbage is soft. Maybe 10 -15 minutes, but I wasn't keeping track so use your judgment. When it's done cooking, place in a colander to drain. Taste it to see if the seasoning is right. I added a splash of soy sauce. When the mixture is cooled and drained, transfer to a bowl and add cilantro and sesame oil.

Now you're ready to assemble the dumplings. This is the tricky part, but it gets easier after the first few, trust me. This is the technique that works best for me. First, set up your work station. The skins adhere with moisture, but you don't want to get them TOO wet, so keep a bowl of water near by to dip your fingers in. You will need a surface to work and then another surface to place them once they're done that is DRY. They will be sitting there for a long time while you assemble all of them, and if you have them on a wet surface, they will get soggy and sticky. Once you're all set up this is how you do it:
1. Place a little filling, about the size of a quarter, in the middle of the skin. If you over stuff, they will be much harder to assemble.
2. Next wet your fingers and fold the skin in half (if you have regular dumpling or pot sticker skins, which are round, it will be a half-moon shape; for wonton skins, which are square, bring opposite corners together like a triangle). You want one side to be a tiny bit longer than the other so that you can fold it over creating a little seam. If you just pinch them together, they will not stay. Once you've closed the dumpling, if you are working with wonton skins, fold the dumpling by bringing the two bottom corners of the triangle together. Don't worry if you mess up once or twice--you can just take out the filling, toss the skin and try again!
That's it! Now do that like 50 times.

To cook the dumplings:
Coat a large frying pan with oil and turn the heat on high. Place the dumplings. They can be close but not touching. When the bottoms are nice and brown (check by lifting a couple with a fork or spatula), pour 1/4 cup water over the dumplings and cover immediately. This will steam the other side of the dumplings. Be careful when you pour the water not to get burnt by splattering oil! Pour fast and then put the cover on right away! It doesn't have to be tight fitting--not of my frying pans have matching lids, so I used my wok cover, which worked fine. Once they're covered, they will cook like this for just a couple of minutes. Keep checking them--they're done when the water has evaporated.
Now unless you happen to have an ENORMOUS frying pan you will need to do this in batches. I had two frying pans going at once. I would pour the water on one, cover it, and prepare the other one in the meantime. I felt very efficient. As you finish each batch, you might want to put them on paper towels to absorb some of the oil.

To make the sauce:
Just put all those ingredients in a bowl and stir it up! Those measurements are estimated, so just play with it until it tastes right!

PHEW! That's it! Look at how proud you will be when they are done:These are traditional, Chinese restaurant style dumplings, but feel free to get creative with the filling. I'd like to try spinach and goat cheese sometime... any other ideas?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tortilla Soup: Take Two

Hillary and I recently cooked dinner at my house. We decided to try another tortilla soup recipe in an attempt to relive those lazy summer days in Baja. Though we agreed it was still not identical to the soup they make in Mexico, I think this recipe comes very close.

The Mansion's Tortilla Soup (Hill found this via the Food Network online)
(Google tells me that the Mansion is a popular, fancy restaurant in Texas.)


3 tablespoons corn oil (We used olive oil.)
4 corn tortillas, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh epazote or cilantro ( Cilantro for us.)
1 cup fresh onion, pureed
2 cups pureed fresh tomatoes (It took about 7 or 8 plum tomatoes to get 2 cups of puree.)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 whole bay leaves
4 tablespoons canned tomato puree (We used tomato paste.)
2 quarts chicken stock
Cayenne pepper
1 cooked chicken breast cut into strips (We cooked up two thinly sliced chicken cutlets. Of course, chicken is optional if you prefer the soup to be vegetarian.)
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
3 corn tortillas, cut in strips and fried until crisp (We baked these (lightly oiled) until crisp, it was just as good.)
Though the recipe didn't call for it, we added a ton of fresh lime juice (about 2 limes I think) to the soup as it was cooking. I think the tangy-ness from the lime juice is the key to the success of this soup!


Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute tortillas with garlic and epazote over medium heat until tortillas are soft. Add onion and fresh tomato puree and bring to a boil. We strained the tomato puree to eliminate all the seeds from the soup. Totally optional, but it does make the soup's texture nice and smooth. Also, I had never pureed an onion before. It was fun!

Add cumin, chili powder, bay leaves, canned tomato puree or paste and chicken stock. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat to simmer. Add salt and cayenne pepper and lime juice! to taste, and cook stirring frequently for 30 minutes.

Strain and pour into warm soup bowls. We did not strain the soup before serving, but it was still pretty smooth, with only some very small pieces of tortilla and cilantro left. If you want the soup to be completely broth-like, go ahead and strain it. I liked it this way though.

Add the chicken, and garnish with avocado, shredded cheese and crisp tortilla strips. Serve Immediately.

*We also made Trader Joe's cornbread to go along with our soup. Have you ever made it? It is pretty tasty!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I made an Eastern European feast!

A week or so ago, I decided to declare this my “Winter of Cabbage” (as opposed to 2008’s “Winter of Kale” and 2007’s “Winter of Root Vegetables” – I like having a theme). Cabbage is not something I’d ever bought or cooked, or really eaten that much of, but it’s always seemed healthy and earthy in a hard core kind of way. So, I bought a green cabbage at the Food Coop and my winter of cabbage was ready to go. I meant to post on my first cabbage dish, which was cabbage with lentils and potatoes on rice, a recipe from the NY Times Health section, but I didn’t get around to it. Regardless, it was very tasty and my Winter of Cabbage was off and running. Alena and I were going to continue the trend last week but we had a cabbage misunderstanding (we each thought the other would contribute cabbage to our dinner) and we ended up with none.

So, at the farmer’s market this weekend, I got myself a good looking green cabbage and I was back on the cabbage wagon. Also at the farmer’s market, I stopped by the Flying Pigs Farm stand, because they have the most delicious pork and VERY good eggs. On Saturday they had a good selection of meats, and I vascillated between the chorizo and the kielbasa, but went with the kielbasa, embracing my Polish roots. Sunday night, I decided to have a true Eastern European meal of kielbasa and cabbage. The kielbasa cooking instructions come from my mom, and the cabbage recipe comes from the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook via the blog Orangette.

Kielbasa first:

Before cooking, I consulted my mom, who I trust with meat related things because 1. Her grandfather was a butcher and her father worked in the store growing up and he had very strong opinions about the right way to cook meat, and 2. She has a good sense of safety and would not steer me wrong in terms of proper meat handling techniques.

Anyway, her instructions were: Fill a large pot with water and place the kielbasa in it. (You start the sausage in cold water). There should be several inches of water covering the sausage. Turn the heat onto medium-high. It should take about an hour from when the water starts boiling for the sausage to cook. You don’t want it to be a heavy boil, just a nice steady simmer. Aim for an internal temperature of about 160F (this was one of the first times I used my meat thermometer for meat!). If there is fat on the top of the water, skim it off with a spoon. After about an hour, you can cut into it and see how it’s doing. Enjoy!

(Mine actually took longer than an hour, but that is because I did not have the heat on high enough at the beginning so it took forever to get to a boil)
Very easy! And now for the cabbage:

Sautéed Green Cabbage with Apples and Red Onions
Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables, Serves 6 to 8 (I halved the recipe when I made it but these are the original measurements)

Olive oil
1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
1 medium green
cabbage, quartered, cored, and very thinly sliced
1 large crisp, sweet apple, such as Golden Delicious, cored and very thinly sliced
(I used a Winesap, which can be kind of tart, but totally tasted good)
Apple cider vinegar
(I didn’t have any cider vinegar so instead I broke out my sherry vinegar, which Mark Bittman highly recommends for everything. Very tasty!)

Chopped and ready to go!

In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat a little oil and sauté onions until translucent and just beginning to brown. Add the apples, and sauté one minute, or until everything is sizzling. Add the cabbage, the salt and pepper, a dash of vinegar, and a little water.


Cabbage close up!

Stir over high heat just long enough to barely soften and cook the cabbage, a few minutes (This took longer than a few minutes for me, probably about 10). It should retain a little crunch but lose the raw flavor of uncooked cabbage. Adjust seasoning (I added a good amount of salt, pepper, and vinegar), and serve.

Delicious warm or at room temperature.

The Feast!

Monday, February 9, 2009

I made Cheddar Scallion Scones

I felt like baking the other day. I really didn't have any reason to bake apart from the fact that it was snowing outside and baking is always a nice cozy activity to pass the time when you really don't want to go outside. The catch was, of course, that because I didn't want to go outside, I needed to bake something with ingredients that I already had. Earlier that day, I read a recipe for cheddar chipotle scones on one of my favorite food blogs, Serious Eats, but it called for sour cream and other things I didn't have at home, so I did an old fashioned Google search and found the recipe below for cheddar scallion scones.

Miraculolusly, I had all the ingredients.

Cheddar Scallion Scones (from the blog Grow Cook Eat)

I should mention that the original recipe was for BACON cheddar scallion scones, but I didn't have any bacon at home. I certainly am all for adding bacon to the recipe though, don't get me wrong.

3 slices bacon, chopped (optional)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup (packed) coarsely grated extra-sharp white cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces) I used a mix of white and yellow cheddar.
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 scallions, washed and cut into rings.
3/4 cup chilled whipping cream (or combination of milk and cream)
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 375°F.

If using bacon: Put bacon in a skillet, and cook over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crispy. Drain bacon on a paper towel.

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter using your fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cheese. Whisk cream, mustard and egg in small bowl, and add the scallions and the bacon. Add cream mixture to flour mixture and gently knead until just combined.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Gather dough together; divide in half. Pat each half into 6-inch round. Cut each round into 6 wedges. Transfer to ungreased baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart.

Bake scones until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
Transfer scones to rack and cool at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. They can be made 8 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. If desired, rewarm in 350°F oven about 5 minutes.)

I think these scones would also taste delicious with a pinch or two of red pepper flakes. I also think that it would be cool to add some more grated cheese to the tops of the scones about 2 minutes before they come out of the oven, so that it gets nice and baked in and toasty.

These scones were flavorful and fragrant from the scallions. The sharp cheddar and addition of the dijon mustard made them a little tangy. There was also a nice salty/sweet thing going on. Definitely easy to make. I recommend you do!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

We Made Red Pepper Soup and Chickpea Butternut Squash Salad

This was Monday night dinner, and by now you know what that means: Gossip Girl/another collaborative culinary feat by Alena and Sarah. This time the decision was made pretty quickly. Alena called me from her shift at the Park Slope Food Co-op asking what groceries she should pick up. I said, "Wanna make this chickpea butternut squash salad?" She said, "YES." We decided the meal would need one more element to be complete, so I looked up soup recipes. I found this recipe for Red Pepper Soup, also on Smitten, originally from the New York Times. It looked quick and easy, plus I already had all the ingredients at home--except for the peppers. I called Alena back to see if she could pick up some peppers. But when I looked to see how many we needed, I saw that it called for 12!!! That's like a whole pepper... tree? vine? What exactly do peppers grow on, anyway? So we halved the recipe, since we were only cooking for the two of us anyway. Here it is, comments in bold:

Red Pepper Soup
Originally published in The New York Times, September 21, 2005

Total time: 45 minutes

2 tablespoons olive oil
3¼ cup sliced onions
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup dry white wine
12 large red bell peppers, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 cups no-salt-added chicken stock or broth (we used vegetable broth instead.)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
¼ to ½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
Salt and white pepper
Crème fraîche for garnish
Thyme sprigs for garnish.

1. Put oil in large pot. Add onion when oil is hot. Cook onions until they begin to soften and take on color. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add wine and cook down quickly, until about 1 tablespoon is left.

2. Add peppers, stock, thyme and red pepper flakes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until peppers are tender, about 30 minutes.

3. In food processor or blender, purée mixture in batches until smooth. Adjust seasonings. (As usual, I used a hand blender instead. It was a little tricky because of the splattering of the hot soup. Alena was very nervous for me. But I've figured out that if you keep the blender submerged it splatters less.)

4. Cover and chill overnight or for as long as 2 days or freeze (whisk well before serving if thawed). Can also be served warm.

5. Serve in demitasse cups or soup bowls, topped with a dab of crème fraîche and a tiny sprig of thyme.

Yield: Makes six large servings, 12 demitasse size.

We didn't have any creme fraiche, or even sour cream, so we sprinkled some feta on top, as you can see in the photo. Delicious! Later, when I had leftovers, I put some Greek yogurt on top. Also delicious!

Now comes the salad:

Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing
Adapted from Orangette, who adapted it from Casa Moro

Yield: 4 servings

For salad:
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoons ground allspice (I skip this)
2 tablespoons olive oil
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (1 1/2 cups)
1/4 of a medium red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

For tahini dressing:
1 medium garlic clove, finely minced with a pinch of salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons well-stirred tahini
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to taste

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash, garlic, allspice, olive oil, and a few pinches of salt. Toss the squash pieces until evenly coated. Roast them on a baking sheet for 25 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

Meanwhile, make the tahini dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning. The sauce should have plenty of nutty tahini flavor, but also a little kick of lemon. You will probably need to add more water to thin it out.

To assemble the salad, combine the squash, chickpeas, onion, and cilantro or parsley in a mixing bowl. Either add the tahini dressing to taste, and toss carefully, or you could serve the salad with the dressing on the side. Serve immediately.

We followed the recipe pretty much exactly. The only thing I would have done differently would have been to use a little less dressing, or to leave it on the side. But it was still a great success. So many delicious flavors you would never think of combining! And the colors are so pretty. You can't really tell in the above photo. We really should have taken one before adding the dressing. Here is one from Smitten, which is pretty much what ours looked like:

This was the first time we actually finished cooking before the show! Both of these recipes are deceptively quick and easy. Perfect for a Monday night.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Special Treat: Mama Vallese's Traditional Vegetable Sauce

I'm often asked about this simple marinara sauce that my mother makes, so ta-da! This goes great on just about any pasta imaginable. I always recommend, after cooking your pasta in well-salted water, that you drain, throw it back into the pot, add a few pats of butter (the vegan, no cholesterol stuff like Earth balance is fine too, maybe a tablespoon or so), sprinkle a nice handful of parmaggiano or romano cheese in (maybe 1/4 cup), toss it all together, add a few ladles of the sauce, then toss it all together. This will keep all the pasta separate and flavored--there is nothing more horrifying to me than dried out, nasty pasta and this always results from folks not lubricating the cooked pasta as it were. You, of course, should always add more sauce and cheese when you serve.

Anyway, without further ado, here is my mother's no-fail vegetable sauce (I will post a separate meat sauce blog later on--don't attempt to just throw meat into this sauce because it just won't taste as good as it could).

2 (two) 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes (you may also use pureed if you prefer a thinner sauce)
2 stalks celery, diced small
3 large carrots, diced small (or about 10 baby carrots)
1 large white or yellow onion
salt, ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper (more if you like it a little spicier)
1 tablespoon onion powder (optional)
1/4 cup fresh basil (I always just eyeball it though)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A few glugs of a nice dry red wine

1. Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a heavy saucepan.

2. Throw the carrots, celery, and onion into the food processor (if you have a small food processor, do it one vegetable at a time and throw it all into a large bowl). If you do not have a food processor, a good blender should work, but you'll need to add a bit of liquid to get the veggies to a puree (a trickle of water or olive oil should do the trick).

3. Add the vegetable mush to the simmering olive oil along with a splash of wine--it should be a dark brownish-orange color. It won't be very attractive, but believe me, the end result is wonderful.

4. Let the vegetables cook with the olive oil for about 4 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper, a generous handful of salt (a few tablespoons - you will add more later to taste), and the black pepper (maybe 2 tablespoons or so). Allow to cook for another 3 minutes or so.

5. Add the tomatoes. (Important: "rinse" the cans or bottles with water and then add the water to the sauce--this is a good way to get all the bits of tomato left over in the can out into the pot and the water will help keep the sauce from getting too thick. Don't fill both cans or bottles with water, but each maybe about 1/4 of the way. Also, use your judgment, if it seems like too much water, it probably is--but it's not the end of the world because it'll cook down eventually anyway and you can always re-season!) Stir it all together.

6. Put a lid on the pot, keep the heat at medium, and allow to cook steadily for at least 1 hour (the longer you cook it, of course, the better). Stir every five minutes or so, scraping at the bottom and sides. Taste when you stir because the salt and pepper often cook out quickly and you'll need to add a few more pinches.

7. Once the sauce has been cooking for about an hour, add your onion powder and a little more wine and stir. Allow sauce to cook for another 15 minutes.

8. When your pasta has almost reached an al dente state, throw the fresh basil into the sauce. Stir and cover again. By the time the pasta is cooked, drained, and tossed with a little butter and cheese, you can turn the sauce off and throw it all together. Important: Really do throw in that basil toward the very end because basil tends to lose its punch if steeped too long in the boiling sauce and when you get an actual piece of the basil in your mouth, it's all stringy and soggy like seaweed on a beach and it has an unfortunate, almost rubbery taste.

9. Eat seconds, dip bread into the leftover sauce. Return to the fridge before bedtime and eat a few bites semi-cold.

10. The next day, FRY IT UP (easy recipe/trick to follow)!

I made Coconut Ginger Lentil Soup

Recently my cousin Rachel sent me an email simply entitled "YUMMY" with an intriguing recipe for Coconut Ginger Lentil Soup. The recipe was from her best childhood friend, Georgia Graham, who happens to be the sister of the drummer from Blind Melon and the inspiration for the video for "No Rain". They both attended Miss Betty's School of Dance back in Columbus, Mississippi (where my maternal family is from), and a photo of Georgia dressed up in a bee costume for a recital inspired their album cover (above) and the concept for the video. Crazy, right?

I decided to make it one very chilly Saturday night while Suzanne made a chocolate souffle. There were a lot of delicious smells going on in our apartment that night, let me tell you.

Here it is--the official Blind Melon Bee Girl Coconut Ginger Lentil Soup, comments in bold:


1 T vegetable oil1 small onion, diced1 carrot, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 celery stalk, diced (I HATE celery. When I teach the vocabulary word "odious" to my ninth graders, I always use celery as an example. Maybe the only food I detest. But I guess it is necessary for flavor. So I chopped it up real fine and cooked it for a long time.)
1 t red chili flakes (forgot to buy so I just used red pepper flakes and a little cayenne)
1 t cumin seeds, freshly ground using a mortar & pestle (Just used the pre-ground stuff)
1 T grated ginger root
1 T curry paste (I used Patak's Balti) (I used Thai Kitchen red curry)
1 c red lentils
3 c water or vegetable stock (I thought it needed way more liquid than this. I guess it depends on the kind of consistency you prefer, but I used about 5 cups of broth and the soup was still pretty thick.)
1 tiny can coconut milk
1 T candied ginger, diced
yogurt (optional)

In a large soup pot, heat up the oil and saute the onion, garlic, carrots and celery until soft, about 5 minutes. Add in the cumin, chili flakes, ginger root and curry paste and saute for another minute. Stir in the lentils and add in the water or stock. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until lentils are somewhat soft. Add in the coconut milk and the candied ginger and simmer for another 10 minutes. (I ended up needing to cook this a lot longer for the lentils to get soft enough. Maybe about 40 minutes total.) Serve with a dollop of yogurt.

I had never cooked with candied ginger before, and had no idea what to look for in the grocery store. It ended up being in the bulk section. Here is what it looks like:

Here is what the soup and souffle looked like cooking together side by side:

Overall, this was a big success. I might have gone a LITTLE too crazy with the cayenne. It had some serious kick. Also, I thought it was maybe a little TOO gingery. Next time I would play up the savory flavors a little more to counter the sweetness. Here's what the finished product looked like:

In general, I recommend cooking with lentils all the time. They are so cheap and healthy and easy to cook--no rinsing required, and they co ok pretty quickly compared to other dry beans. Sometime I will post my recipe for Crushed Lentil Soup, which I make allllll the time. But I w ill definitely integrate this soup into my regular lentil repertoire.

We made Thin Mints (aka "The Difficult Cookie.")

Thin Mints have a very special place in my heart. I have proclaimed them to be "my favorite cookie in the world", and while I don't actually have a list of favorite cookies, the Thin Mint has managed to hold onto its imaginary # 1 spot, even as I continue to bake and taste new and exciting cookies all the time. The Thin Mint has staying power.

I suspect part of the Thin Mint's allure is it's rarity - available for a short time only once a year! I was never a Girl Scout, however when I was young, it was always a great day when one of my parents would come home from work with a box or two of Girl Scout cookies, purchased (I suppose) from a coworker selling them on behalf a Girl Scout child or relative.

Like many others before me, I prefer these cookies stored in the freezer. Somehow the cookie remains crispy without getting stale or tooth-chippingly hard, and the cool mint flavor is further enhanced by the nice cold temperature.

Recently, I realized that Girl Scout cookie season was upon us. Sadly though, my parents' Girl Scout cookie connections seem to have dried up. I racked my brain for any other possible Girl Scout cookie hook-ups, but came up with nothing.

Then, fortuitously, during a bout of insomnia, I came across a recipe for HOMEMADE Thin Mints.

I promptly composed an email to Faryl (sent at 2:02 AM):

Subject: I am crazy


I want to make them like tomorrow.


Do you love these cookies as much as I do?

The next morning I woke up to this reply:

What are you doing TODAY!!!

(Or tomorrow!?)

The choice was obvious. We would make them that VERY day. Faryl came over, and we began.

From start to finish, the creation of the cookie spanned several days and multiple boroughs of New York City. But this is not the only reason that we ultimately dubbed the homemade Thin Mint as "the difficult cookie". This is not meant to discourage you from trying it yourself! It is fun to make and eat, just a little...unruly. A little messy. A little time consuming. And didn't taste much like a traditional thin mint. But hey, it is still a chocolate cookie that has been dipped in a thick layer of melted chocolate. So I guess in the scheme of things, there is not much to complain about.

Here's the recipe (Notes in bold):

Homemade Thin Mints
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/3 cup milk (any kind)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp peppermint extract **I think you really need more than this. Definitely at least a full teaspoon, maybe even a tsp and a 1/4. See note below.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. With the mixer on low speed, add in the milk and the extracts. Mixture will look curdled. It's true.

Gradually, add in the flour mixture until fully incorporated.

Shape dough into two logs, about 1 1/2 inches (or about 4 cm) in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 1-2 hours, until dough is very firm. This was the first "difficult" part of the process. The dough was very crumbly. We managed to wrangle it into plastic wrap though.

At this point in the process, we ran out of time. Dinner plans had been set, and there was no way we could wait for these to freeze and finish them in time. We decided to leave the dough chilling in the freezer, and complete the process soon.

After a few days, and I retrieved the logs of dough from the freezer, and packed them up for a trip to Faryl's house. A bus ride and two subway lines later, we were ready to complete the process.

Recipe continued:

Preheat oven to 375F.

Slice dough into rounds not more than 1/4 inch thick - if they are too thick, they will not be as crisp - and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. We found that the dough was MUCH easier to cut when nearly frozen. The subway ride had thawed them a bit, and they were impossibly crumbly. We put them back in the freezer to re-harden, and it was much easier. I dare say they can be up to 1/2 inch thick though.

Cookies will not spread very much, so you can put them quite close together. It is true, the cookies do not really spread. What you see is what you get. We experimented with cookie size a great deal, with some tiny cookies and some larger ones. The larger cookies (the size of a traditional Thin Mint) were much, much better.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, until cookies are firm at the edges. Cool cookies completely on a wire rack before dipping in chocolate.

Dark Chocolate Coating
10-oz dark or semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter, room temperature

In a microwave safe bowl (or double boiler) combine chocolate and butter. Melt on high power in the microwave, stirring every 45-60 seconds, until chocolate is smooth. Chocolate should have a consistency somewhere between chocolate syrup and fudge for a thin coating.

Dip each cookie in melted chocolate, turn with a fork to coat, then transfer to a piece of parchment paper or wax paper to set up for at least 30 minutes, or until chocolate is cool and firm. Reheat chocolate as needed to keep it smooth and easy to dip into.

Makes 3 1/2-4 dozen cookies.

**Note about the minty-ness: Like I mentioned before, these cookies came out of the oven with a VERY subtle mint flavor. It was there, but barely. Did it lose potency due to the extended stay in my freezer? I do not know. In any case, I recommend adding more peppermint extract to your batter, but in moderation. You still want to be able to taste the chocolate.

After we baked these, I looked back at the original recipe. A few people had commented including someone named "Sarah" who had a very strange suggestion. Here it is:

An easier recipe that tastes exactly like Thin Mints is to use Ritz Crackers and dip them in a pound of melted Bakers Chocolate (double boiled) with 1 tsp. of peppermint extract mixed in the chocolate. set on wax paper and let dry and they are AMAZING.

I may be crazy enough to try it. My quest to recreate the Thin Mint may not have yielded precise results, but the journey is just beginning. While the real Thin Mint recipe is probably locked in a safe somewhere at National Girl Scout Headquarters, I feel confident that with perseverance, the home baker will someday create a worthy replica. Until then...will someone please tell me how to get my hands on one of those beautiful green boxes?!

Monday, February 2, 2009

I made brownies!

Since college I've had my standard brownie recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook. They are delicious and fudgy and use 5 eggs, and have many optional mix ins, although I only ever add chocolate chips. This is NOT that recipe, however, because Saturday I found myself in the brownie making mood while not at home, so I had to find a new recipe, and I'm very happy with the results. The recipe is from Cooks Illustrated, although I found it via Smitten Kitchen (of course). I like this recipe because the brownies are fudgy and the recipe doesn't require a lot of ingredients or dishes. The baking went very smoothly, except when I went to add the sugar to the chocolate and discovered that I didn't have enough, resulting in a store run (well, I did not make the store run, it was Zach, who very nicely offered to do it, but I waited in limbo, stirring the chocolate). Lesson learned (again): make sure you have all the ingredients BEFORE you start baking.

Here is the recipe as posted on Smitten Kitchen with my notes in bold:

1 cup (4 ounces) pecans or walnuts, chopped medium (optional). I am not a fan of nuts in most baked goods. Baklava, yes. Brownies, no.
1¼ cups (5 ounces) cake flour. I used regular flour. It didn't seem to make any difference.
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine. I used Baker's Chocolate and actually only realized just now that I was supposed to chop it. Seemed fine.
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into six 1-inch pieces
2¼ cups (15¾ ounces) sugar. This is a lot of sugar. Make sure you have enough!
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract. This seemed like a lot to me, but I am always on board with vanilla.

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhand pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray. There was no cooking spray, so I used oil.

2. If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside to cool. No nuts for me.

3. Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in medium bowl; set aside.

4. Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost-simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and, if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn.) I went for the stove top method and all went smoothly, even with large squares of chocolate. When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs on at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogeneous.

Just kidding, I don't eat batter with raw eggs.
My mom scared me about salmonella when I was little.

5. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes.
Mine took 30 minutes and the knife was totally clean when I took it out. They were still moist. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve.