Wednesday, July 30, 2008

hello, gordon

White wine or rosé is my go-to drink in the summer, mainly for sheer ease. Just pour and drink. Repeat.

But for dinner parties, or after an especially long day, it's nice to serve something a little more exciting. Apologies to Paloma, but I think I'm a Gordon girl now. I discovered the Gordon's Cup (adapted from Bon Appétit) via Orangette, my favorite food blogger, and man oh man, am I hooked. It's a summery blend of cucumber, lime, and deliciously herbal gin, served over ice. I was unable to find the original recipe, which I think calls for Gordon's gin, hence the name. An Epicurious search only returned a recipe for "Gordon's pot roast," which doesn't sound nearly as refreshing.

Gordon's Cup
(Serves 1)
One tip: Maybe I'm a wimp, but I found muddling the cucumber a bit difficult. I smashed with all of my might, but several big chunks of cucumber didn't seem to want to break down. So you might want to give your cukes a very, very quick whizz in the food processor–don't puree, just roughly chop–or bash the cucumber slices in a mortar and pestle before muddling it with the limes. You definitely want the lime and cucumber juice to mix, because that's all that cuts the gin.

1/2 of a small lime, cut into six wedges
2 1-inch slices of peeled cucumber
¼ cup gin (I used Tanqueray)
1 to 1 ½ Tbsp. simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, boiled then cooled)
1 handful of ice
Pinch of salt
Sprig of mint

Place the lime and the cucumber in a cocktail shaker or sturdy glass and mash with a muddler or wooden spoon (or food processor, if you're weak) until the lime is juiced and the cucumber is pulpy. Add the gin, 1 Tbsp. simple syrup, and ice. Cover, and shake vigorously three times. Taste and adjust, if necessary. Strain the contents of the shaker into a glass, then sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Serve with or without extra ice and garnish with a mint sprig.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Speaking of grilling, here's a grilled halloumi and watermelon salad. These cheese-and-watermelon salads are everywhere, it seems. [via Serious Eats]

Always on top of the major issues of the day, Slate offers 12 steps to a better pasta salad. Who knew making pasta salad required a 12-step program? There's a few good tips here (yes to no raw broccoli), but some are questionable, or at least a matter of taste. The writer recommends avoiding acid, like lemon juice, which I don't agree with. I've found that acid, like in a vinaigrette, keeps pasta from being oily and bland. [Via Slate]

Mark Bittman strikes again! This time, with a delectable looking no-bake cheesecake topped with blueberries. I must try this soon. [via the NYT]

A subject dear to my heart, The Kitchn has a roundup of Florida-centric menus, all very appropriate for summer. [via The Kitchn]

Who doesn't like to laugh at creepy looking cakes? No one, that's who! I give you Cake Wrecks. The Internet is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

dinner on the grill (pan)

You'd think standing outdoors around a fire would be the last thing you'd want to do in 80 or 90-degree weather, but somehow cooking outside just feels right in the summer. Especially on a breezy back porch with an iced tea in hand.

Unfortunately, my only outdoor space is the fire escape, so grilling sort of lost its appeal until recently. My mom gave Dan and me a fantastic non-stick All-Clad grill pan last Christmas and while I've used it to cook the occasional piece of meat or fish, I'm finding myself pulling it out of the cabinet more and more these days. Must be grilling season.

Summer dinner on the grill (pan)
Prosciutto and melon with basil
Grilled zucchini salad with feta
Tomato and avocado salad
Salt-crusted shrimp

This is a simple menu based on a few meals I made recently, after Dan and I made trip to the farmer's market and came back with all sorts of beautiful produce. You could easily make only one of the side dishes, and if you do, the grilled zucchini salad is one of the best—and simplest—dishes I've made in awhile. One of my favorite restaurants in Brooklyn is Franny's, a cute little spot mostly known for its pizza. Calling it just a pizza place is a huge disservice to the seasonal salads and decadent pastas and incredible gelato they turn out. If you haven't been yet—really, go now. But what really strikes me about Franny's is the utter simplicity of everything. Most dishes have no more than five ingredients, and yet they taste like nothing you've ever eaten before. Of course that's because the chefs work with local farms and only use organic products, but I also think there's something sort of magic going on in that kitchen. This dish reminded me of something I'd order at Franny's, which is what I'm always striving for when I cook, especially when making vegetables. It's deceptively simple, but tastes like way more than the sum of its parts.

Grilled zucchini salad with feta
Now that zucchini's in season, try to get as many different varieties as you can find. It not only looks pretty, but when the squash is grilled, you really can taste the difference between the different varieties.
(Serves 2 to 4 people)
2 lbs. assorted zucchini
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup, plus 2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup crumbled feta
1 handful mint leaves
salt and pepper

Heat your grill (or grill pan) on medium-high heat. Cut the zucchini into thick slices. In a large bowl, toss with 2 Tbsp. olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. When your grill is hot, place the slices on the grill and cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until you get nice grill marks. As the zucchini is cooking, make a dressing by whisking together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Set aside. Place the cooked zucchini on a large platter and continue grilling the rest of the squash in batches. When all of the squash is done, drizzle the dressing on top. Top with the feta cheese and mint and season with salt and pepper.

Salt-crusted shrimp
Don't be afraid of the amount of salt in this recipe. I was a little unsure at first, but rolling the uncooked, unshelled shrimp in salt keeps the meat sweet, moist and just slightly salty when cooked and peeled.
(Serves about 4 people)

2 lbs. unshelled shrimp
1 Tbsp. olive oil
5 Tbsp. sea salt
2 lemons

Use kitchen shears (or, if you have steady hands, a sharp knife) to cut down the back of the shrimp to pull out the intestinal tract. Leave the shell intact. Wash the shrimp and toss them in a large bowl with the oil. Heat your grill pan. When hot, cook the shrimp for about 3 minutes on each side, or until the shells turn bright pink and the shrimp is no longer translucent. Serve with lemon wedges and peel before eating.

Tomato and avocado salad

Best with peak-of-summer tomatoes. (Otherwise, use halved grape tomatoes.) Serve this with a baguette, and you've got a pretty nice lunch.
(serves 2 to 4)

4 tomatoes, cut into bite-sized wedges
1 avocado, diced
a handful of torn basil leaves
a handful of pitted olives
splash of white or red wine vinegar
splash of olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup shaved parmesan

In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, avocado, basil, and olives. Add the vinegar and olive oil, and toss to coat. Add the basil leaves and salt and pepper to taste. Serve, then top with parmesan.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

dinner for two

Almost every other Thursday Dan and three of his friends have Lucali Club. It is a not-so-secret society where they sit around and eat slices and calzones at Lucali, a fantastic brick oven pizza place in Carroll Gardens. I also call it Getting Fat Club.

The best part of Lucali Club is that it leaves me a free night with Mindi, one of my favorite people in the world, and wife (eek, we can both say wife now) of a Lucali clubber. Sometimes we eat out, sometimes I cook for the two of us, and sometimes I get really lucky and she cooks for me, like last week. I love watching her chop, and stir, and saute in her little kitchen. The same space where we canned 40-something jars of marmalade and pumpkin butter last Christmas in a very Lucille-and-Ethel fashion. Things got very sloppy, is all I'll say.

On normal nights, we try to keep it simple. Although we're usually eating something good, it's more about catching up than food. We talk about work and bemoan living in New York and how dirty and expensive and unnecessarily difficult everything is. And how when we move to Portland, everything will be great. Or sometimes we go sit outside on the stoop when it's nice out, and the fireflies are darting about, and Brooklyn's hard angles are softened by the dusk. A few glasses of wine in us, we talk about how lovely New York can be and how great it is to live here now, when we can still appreciate it without really being able to afford it. And how someday we'll look back and miss this time in our lives, shared in this city.

And then Lucali Club strolls up, interrupting our precious girl time with their raunchy jokes and name-calling, full of way too many beers. But we love them for it anyway (kind of).

Dinner for two at Mindi's:
Assorted olives (Pitted, which were fantastic. Why don't I buy pitted olives?)
Linguine with crème fraîche, arugula, and lemon
Green beans with butter and shallots
Dark chocolate

Linguine with crème fraîche, arugula, and lemon
Adapted from Amanda Hesser's fun book Cooking For Mr. Latte, this pasta calls for Meyer lemons, but Min and I agree regular old lemons are better because they give you more citrus flavor—not to mention they're also cheaper and in season all year round.

(Serves 2-4)
1 pound of linguine (fresh pasta is best for this)
2 lemons
3 large handfuls of uncooked arugula, cleaned and roughly chopped
1/2 cup crème fraîche (or strained plain Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus a little extra
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Boil water and add the pasta. While it cooks, zest the lemons. When the pasta is cooked, reserve one cup of the cooking water and set it aside. Drain the pasta and place it in a large bowl. To the pasta, add the juice of one lemon, lemon zest, reserved pasta water, parmesan, and crème fraîche. Stir the pasta until it forms a creamy sauce. Add the arugula, and toss until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste, and top with extra parmesan.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Summer appetizers from Ms. Martha [via Martha Stewart]

Plums aren't my favorite fruit, but this plum caipirinha looks highly delicious. [via The Kitchn]

Good grilling idea: Mark Bittman uses rosemary as fragrant skewers for kebabs. [via the NYT]

Ice cream recipes (and gorgeous photos) from Gourmet that make me simultaneously happy and sad that we don't have an ice cream maker. [via Gourmet]

And an unrelated dose of cuteness: Turtle Attacks Strawberry [via Serious Eats]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

summer on a plate

You didn't think I was going to tantalize you with all those delicious-sounding dishes from last weekend's picnic and then leave you hanging with two measly bar cookies, did you? Come on, now. You know me better than that.

It really was quite an impressive spread, but two dishes stood out for me. I'm actually craving both of them as I type this. Number one: homemade, individually wrapped bánh mì sandwiches, brought by our hosts. Part French, part Vietnamese, bánh mì is traditionally a baguette filled with all sorts of goodness like pâté, chicken, pork, and a variety of vegetable toppings like pickled carrots, green papaya, and cilantro.

At our picnic, some sandwiches were labeled "Thai" and had pieces of chicken tossed with basil and a tangy lime and fish sauce dressing. Others, labeled "Vietnamese" were filled with liverwurst, slaw, and fiery jalapeños. Seriously clever and seriously tasty–these sandwiches are perfect picnic fare.

Thai-style bánh mì a la Mark Bittman (and Audrey)
This very loose "recipe" from Mark Bittman's recent 101 picnic ideas story makes about 2-3 sandwiches, depending on the size of the baguette and how hungry you are. To feed a crowd, simply double, triple, or multiply by however many people you're feeding, then wrap each sandwich in foil. Trust me, make extra.

To make: Slice open a good baguette and fill it with chopped or shredded cooked chicken tossed with fish sauce, chili, sugar, lime, garlic, scallions, and Thai basil (or, in a dire emergency, regular).

*Note: For two chicken breasts, I would estimate about 2 Tbsp. fish sauce, 1 Tbsp. (each) lime juice and sugar, 1 glove garlic, 1 to 1/2 minced jalapeño, 2 chopped scallions and a handful of basil. But that's just my guess. Use this as a starting point, then taste and make adjustments.

Vietnamese-style bánh mì
David adapted this recipe from Gourmet, substituting premade slaw from Trader Joe's, which he marinated overnight in a rice vinegar and sugar brine. The original recipe calls for the bread to be toasted but David skipped this step because the sandwiches had to endure some travel time. Check out his super-efficient assembly line!

1/2 lb. daikon, peeled
1 carrot, peeled
(*Or 1 cup store-bought mayo-less slaw)
1/2 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 (24-inch) soft baguette
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. Asian fish sauce
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 lb. liverwurst
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced
1/2 onion, cut into 1/4-inch rings
3/4 cup packed cilantro sprigs
2 cooked chicken breasts from a rotisserie chicken, thinly slicedLettuce leaves
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

If using, shred daikon and carrot in a food processor fitted with medium shredding disk. Stir together vinegar, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss with shredded vegetables (or store-bought slaw). Let slaw stand, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes. Cut off and discard round ends of the baguette, then split in half. Mix together oil, fish sauce, and soy sauce and brush on cut sides of bread. Spread liverwurst on bottom layer of bread and top with chiles, onion, and cilantro. Drain slaw in a colander. Arrange chicken, slaw, and lettuce on cilantro. Spread top layer of bread with mayonnaise and cut sandwich crosswise into fourths.

Martha's chicken salad with herbs
The other standout dish of the day was our friend Martha's chicken salad. Chunky and creamy, adorned only with a few handfuls of scallions and herbs this is a chicken salad for purists. If you like celery, or olives, or pineapple chunks, this version might not be for you. I thought it was just right. Sadly, I ate it too quickly to snap a photo but you can see it in the first shot, nestled there in all its herby goodness between a handful of crudite and a spoonful of orzo-feta salad.
(Serves 2-4 people)

1 lb. of chicken with skin on (white meat or a mix of breasts and thighs)
1 handful, each, parsley and dill
1 handful chopped scallions
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (Martha likes fat-free Fage)
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper

Fill a large pot halfway with water to poach the chicken. Martha says, "Sounds fancy, is easy. Less water than if you were boiling, and at a much lower temperature. The French, at least according to Laurie Colwin in her excellent food books, say that the water should just smile. I throw peppercorns, garlic cloves (skin on is fine), carrots, and some wine in, too, if I have it. Or some parsley, whatever. Later, you'll have yummy broth. The thing is to not over-boil or overcook." Cook the chicken for about 30 minutes, until the meat is tender and not pink in the middle. More instructions on poaching chicken can be found here.

As the chicken poaches, make the dressing by combining the herbs, scallions, mayo, and yogurt in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, and stir until combined.

Once the chicken is cooked and cool enough to handle, discard the skin and shred the meat. Toss the meat with the herbed dressing and add salt and pepper to taste. Martha says you can make it at room temperature or cold, and it can be made a day ahead and refrigerated in an air-tight container.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

treasure island

Picnics are one of my favorite types of dinner parties. Anthony Bourdain always says food tastes better when you're barefoot. I think food tastes better when you're barefoot and sitting underneath a big tree on a blanket. Really, what could be better? On Saturday, we did just that, joining Audrey and David (of the rendeng) and a bunch of their friends for a picnic on Governor's Island to celebrate Audrey's birthday. It was my first time on the island and I really loved it, from the totally free ferry ride to the rambling, almost empty fields of grass. Although the Manhattan skyline (and Olafur Eliasson's waterfalls) loomed right before us, it felt totally removed from the city in the best possible way.

But onto the food. Sharing a picnic with people you don't know can be risky business. Everyone might have a laundry list of food allergies, or someone might bring a gross, gloppy dip you feel forced to eat, or maybe people will slack and bring nothing at all. Luckily, none of these things occurred and everyone contributed something, creating a truly impressive spread. We had watermelon-goat cheese-thyme salad (brought by Ilana, a lovely Social Eats host–more on that later), homemade guacamole, orzo and feta salad, green beans with walnuts, celery sticks stuffed with chopped cashews and coriander, berries from the greenmarket, spiked mint lemonade–and lots and lots more.

I volunteered to bring dessert, thinking it would be an easy thing to transport not only on the subway, but also on a boat. But immediately after I emailed everyone to let them know, I was stumped. Not knowing who you're feeding makes choosing a recipe tough. Do you go predictable and classic (brownies, chocolate chip cookies, blueberry pie) or do you go surprising and different (chocolate stout cupcakes, dulce de leche dip and fruit, salted caramel cupcakes)? Sometimes it's fun to do something unusual and a bit showoffy, but I tend to lean toward the classics.

I decided on a bar cookie, and after scanning Epicurious and some other food blogs, I decided to go with peanut butter brownies and oatmeal coconut raspberry bars (above). Two options would offer a little variety and a back-up in case disaster struck and one totally didn't turn out, because I had never tried either recipe before. In the end, both were pretty successful; I'd even venture to say they were cookie smackdown-worthy. The peanut butter brownies were more like Reese's Cups, with a chocolate ganache topping and dense chocolate-chip studded peanut butter cake. I always assume chocolate desserts are the most popular with people, but the coconut raspberry bars, a lovely combination of buttery crust, toasted coconut, and sticky jam, went even faster than the brownies.

Oatmeal coconut raspberry bars
I used a lot more jam than called for in the original recipe, from Gourmet. Like an entire jar. But I also cut back the sugar, so it balanced everything out and added more raspberry flavor. Obviously, you could substitute any other fruit jam but I think raspberry complements the coconut especially well.
(Makes approximately 24 small bars)

1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 jar seedless raspberry jam (like AllFruit)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread 3/4 cup coconut on a baking sheet and toast in middle of oven, stirring once, until golden, about 8 minutes, then cool.

Blend together flour, sugars, and salt in a food processor, then add butter and blend until a dough begins to form. Transfer to a bowl and knead in oats and toasted coconut until combined well.

Reserve 3/4 cup dough, then press remainder evenly into bottom of a buttered 13- by 9-inch metal baking pan and spread the jam over it. Crumble reserved dough evenly over jam, then sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup untoasted coconut.

Bake in middle of oven until golden, 20 to 25 minutes, then cool completely in pan. The cut bars can be stored in an airtight container. I recommend using cupcake liners to keep them from sticking together.

Peanut butter brownies
I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen awhile ago and it looked so fantastically decadent I filed it away for future use. While my brownies didn't turn out quite as bakery-case perfect as hers, I'm sure they tasted just as good.
(Makes about 32 small brownies)

For brownies:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 eggs plus 1 large yolk
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 tsp. salt

For ganache:
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (9 oz.)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking pan.

Beat together butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, then add peanut butter and beat until incorporated. Beat in whole eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla. Reduce mixer sped to low, then mix in flour until just combined.

Mix in chocolate chips (1 cup) then spread the batter in the baking pan, smoothing the top with a knife. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes, until brownies are deep golden, and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with some crumbs adhering. Cool completely in pan for about an hour.

To make the ganache, put chocolate chips (1 1/2 cups) in a heatproof bowl. Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan, add the butter, then pour over the chocolate chips. Stir until the chocolate is completely smooth.

Spread the ganache on cooled brownies and let stand until set, about 15 minutes. Store the brownies in an airtight container.

Friday, July 11, 2008

cooking for mom

Many people who love to cook say their mothers taught them everything they know. My mother isn't really into cooking.

That's not to say she's not good at it. She roasts a mean Thanksgiving turkey, packed my lunchbox with egg salad sandwiches my classmates would trade me for, and spent the good part of a summer canning the best homemade peach jam I've ever tasted. She clips recipes and dutifully turns out holiday meals and family dinners, but it's not her thing. Mom likes projects. She can draw, she can paint, she makes handmade gifts like scented soap and 7-bean soup mix. Last year, just for kicks, she roasted her own coffee beans (purchased raw on the Internet). Her idea of an afternoon well-spent is not standing over the stove--give her a necklace to bead or something to scrapbook or a good sale at Macy's.

Whenever I come home, she is more than happy to step aside and let me at her wonderful kitchen, with its open center island and big windows that look out onto the backyard. Compared to my efficient but dark and narrow railroad kitchen, it's heaven. I try to cook at least one meal for my parents when I visit. Not only to give Mom a night off, but to luxuriate in all that lovely counter space.

So what did I make in that big, beautiful kitchen? Fish, of course. A trip to Florida doesn't seem complete without eating seafood at least once. Sadly, most types of seafood are shipped in from other parts of the world, but sitting down to a plate of blue crabs or a fried cod sandwich at least makes me feel like I'm on a beach vacation. For this dinner for myself, my parents, and Dan, I wanted to make something with a slightly tropical feel plus some simple sides with in-season produce.

Monday night dinner at home:
Guacamole and chips

Fish cakes with lemon mayo
Boiled corn on the cob
Avocado-tomato salad

Key lime pie

Fish cakes
I made these with tilapia because it's mild (and inexpensive) but cod, mahi mahi, or any other firm white fish would work just as well. I've also made a version of this recipe with canned salmon, which is entirely different but equally tasty.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

1 1/2 lb. tilapia filets
2 Tbsp. olive oil
About 2 cups breadcrumbs
2 eggs
3 scallions, minced
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro (or any other fresh herbs)
1 Tsp. ground jalapeno (or minced fresh jalapeno, to taste)
1 Tbsp. each salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut the fish into small chunks (about 1/2 inch) and place in a large bowl. Add the eggs, oil, and breadcrumbs and mix thoroughly. If the fish isn't binding together, add more breadcrumbs. If it seems too dry, add another splash of oil. Add the lemon juice, scallions, herbs, jalapeno, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Using your hands, form the fish mixture into six patties about 3 inches across. Place the patties on a oiled baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and flake when pierced with a fork.

Serve with lemon mayonnaise (1 cup mayo mixed with the juice and zest of 1 lemon and a dash of salt).

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

just desserts

Going on vacation--especially going home--is always an excuse to eat extra dessert. When Dan and I aren't sucking down toothachingly sweet iced coffees at our favorite Cuban bakery in West Palm Beach, we're probably filling up on Key lime pie or ice cream. Last weekend, we had a silky panna cotta with saba and cherry sauce at Forte, the newish restaurant opened by ex-Top Chef-er (and South Florida native) Stephen Aspirino. I would go on about the insanely pointy alligator shoes he was wearing but this blog is not about restaurants or footwear choices, it's about cooking at home. So I bring you three recipes we made and ate together (well, Tilly begged for her share, as you can see) this past weekend.

Mango-peach sorbet
In the summer, mangoes grow everywhere in South Florida. In the summer, people burdened by overproductive trees try to hand off bags of ripe, sap-dripping fruit to whoever will take them. I've had a complete stranger give me an armful in a parking lot. In New York, when I pay $5 a mango, I think about all those Florida backyards filled with piles of pink and yellow fruit ripening in the sun. If you don't have a mango tree or want to pay $5 a mango, you can substitute extra peaches or any other type of fruit in this recipe.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

3 medium-sized peaches, sliced
1 large mango, sliced
1/2 lime
1/2 cup sugar syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated until dissolved, and cooled)

In a food processor, puree the peaches then pour into a bowl. Then puree the mango with the juice of 1/2 of a lime. Combine with the peach puree, then add the sugar syrup. Chill in the freezer in a Tupperware container, stirring twice, every 15 minutes until the texture is slushy, but not rock hard.

Judy has a friendly baking competition going with a co-worker. Almost every week they each bring in a batch of cookies for the rest of their office and see which ones get eaten the fastest. Judy, being somewhat (ahem) of a competitive type, described the contest as a "cookie slapdown" when she first told Dan about it. I think she meant "throwdown," but whatever. Cookie slapdown (or smackdown, as we sometimes call it) has a nice ring to it. She's made dozens and dozens of co-worker-approved cookies since the slapdown started, but these are her two latest favorites, both from Martha Stewart's new cookie cookbook. I prefer the chocolate crackles (top), which are misleadingly-named. They have a dense brownie-like texture and flavor, not at all crackly. The cappuccino sandwich cookies (bottom) are filled with a fudge-like chocolate ganache and are really delicious too.

Chocolate crackle cookies
The recipe can also be found on Martha Stewart's site.
(Makes about 4 dozen)

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups light-brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
1 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for rolling

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Chop bittersweet chocolate into small bits, and melt over medium heat in a heat-proof bowl or the top of a double boiler set over a pan of simmering water. Set aside to cool. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and light-brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Add melted chocolate. With mixer on low speed, alternate adding dry ingredients and milk until just combined.

Divide the dough into quarters, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator until firm, about 2 hours. On a clean countertop, roll each portion of dough into a log approximately 16 inches long and 1 inch in diameter, using confectioners’ sugar to prevent sticking. Wrap logs in plastic wrap, and transfer to a baking sheet. Chill for 30 minutes.

Cut each log into 1-inch pieces, and toss in confectioners’ sugar, a few at a time. Using your hands, roll the pieces into a ball shape. If any of the cocoa-colored dough is visible, roll dough in confectioners’ sugar again to coat completely.

Place the cookies 2 inches apart on a Silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake until cookies have flattened and the sugar splits, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer from oven to a wire rack to let cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Cappuccino-chocolate bites
The recipe can also be found here.
(Makes 30 bite-size cookies)

2/3 c flour
1 Tbsp finely ground espresso beans
1/8 tsp salt
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/4 c confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 c heavy cream
2 1/2 oz milk chocolate, finely chopped
Unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting

Whisk flour, espresso, and salt in a bowl, set aside. Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix on med-high speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in vanilla. Reduce speed to med-low. Add flour mixture; mix utnil dough comes together. Shape into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350. Let dough stand at room temp. 10 minutes. Roll between 2 sheets of parchment to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out rounds with 1 1/8 in cutter; space 1/2 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment. Reroll scraps, cut out. Freeze 10 minutes.

Bake until set but not browned, about 9 minutes. Let cool on sheets 5 minutes. Transfer to wire racks, cool completely.

Bring cream to simmer in a saucepan. Pour over chocolate in a bowl; stir until smooth. Press plastic wrap onto surface; refrigerate at least 4 hours, up to overnight. Whisk to soft peaks before using.

Transfer filling to a pastry bag, fitted with a 1/4 inch plain round tip. Pipe about 1 tsp filling onto bottoms of half the cookies; sandwich with remaining cookies. Dust with cocoa and sugar.

Friday, July 4, 2008

a Florida Fourth

Look at this table! How pretty, right? My mother-in-law Judy is a photographer and food stylist and has cabinets full of cool dishware that she also uses for entertaining, like this Fourth of July BBQ. Although Judy did most of the cooking (including a terrific steak that was marinated in guess what--Kraft Catalina dressing!) we contributed a few dishes, like watermelon salad and twice-baked potatoes. The rain, which poured on and off all day as it does in South Florida, broke just in time for us to sit outside around the pool and eat shrimp cocktail and later on, watch fireworks over the Intracoastal waterway.

Fourth of July menu:
Shrimp cocktail
Guacamole and chips

Hanger steak
Corn on the cob with lime-chile butter
Watermelon-feta salad
Twice-baked potatoes

Cookies and strawberry sorbet

Twice-baked potatoes with cheddar and green onions
A very very tweaked version of this Bon Appetit recipe, which called for the potatoes to be filled with goat cheese and chives. We already had a block of sharp white cheddar on hand, and I thought sour cream and green onions would go nicely.
(Serves 6-8 people)

6 large red skinned potatoes
1 Tsp. oil (any kind)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
4 Tbsp. chopped green onions
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prick the potatoes all over with a knife, then rub them with oil. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, or until very tender. Let cool for 10 minutes, then use a serrated knife to slice them in half. Use a teaspoon to carefully scoop out the flesh of each potato, leaving about a 1/2-inch thick shell. Transfer the potato flesh into a large bowl. Add the milk, butter, and sour cream and mash with a potato masher or electric mixer until smooth. Fold in 1 cup of the cheese and 3 Tbsp. green onions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fill the potato shells with the mashed potato mixture. Top with the remaining cup of shredded cheese and 1 Tbsp. green onions. Keep the potatoes covered until you are ready to re-bake them (20 minutes at 375 degrees).


Happy 4th of July, everyone. Let's all celebrate with Paloma!

Here's this week's link round-up:

Last-minute 4th of July menus for weekend festivities from Serious Eats, Epicurious, and Food Network.

To marinade or not to marinade? In this story, the Kitchn says marinades work best for kebabs and thinner cuts like skirt steak. Only tougher cuts of meat like the shoulder should be marinated for several hours or overnight. [via The Kitchn]

Mark Bittman never ceases to amaze me. The man is so darn prolific. I know most of his recipes aren't that complicated, or even that original, but the man just keeps churning them out. This week he's got 101 20-Minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics. This story is also a font of inspiration for those dreaded what-do-I-pack-for-lunch-I-hate-my-job days. A few of my favorite ideas:

Toss toasted pita with olives, parsley and mint, salt and pepper, bits of chopped-up lemon (rinds and all; preserved lemon is even better), chopped seeded tomatoes, chopped seeded cucumbers and chopped red pepper. Take olive oil for last-minute dressing.

Cook peeled shrimp; little ones are best. Toss with pesto: lots. Put on small rolls. (In fact: cook anything; toss with pesto: lots. Put on small rolls.)

Cut melon into wedges and wrap thin slices of prosciutto around them. Stack in a container, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper. Take romaine lettuce and serve the wedges over the greens, with the accumulated juices as a dressing. It works. [via the NYT]

Also from the Times, there's a story on rooftop dinner parties. If only that was possible atop our slanted apartment. Anyone with a roofdeck want to invite us over? Audrey and David, nudge, nudge... [via the NYT]

Kind of apropos of nothing, but this condiment caddy is super cute. [via DesignSponge]

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

meet Paloma

My friend Mike introduced me to my new best friend, Paloma. She's from Mexico. Sparkling and slightly sweet, she's the life of any party. And unlike her boozy cousin Margarita, Paloma knows how to handle her liquor like a lady. In fact, I'm planning on spending a lot of time with her all summer long.

The Paloma
(Serves 1)
In a glass, combine: 1 shot of tequila, the juice of 1 lime, and a pinch of salt. Stir, and top off with grapefruit soda (Mike uses Jarritos grapefruit, but Squirt or Fresca would work), then add a lime slice and ice.


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