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Monday, December 21, 2009

More chocolate - in gingerbread cookies

Here's a wonderful cookie recipe from Martha Stewart's Cookies book. Lots of great cookie recipes in here, every kind of cookie you can imagine.

I am not a huge gingerbread fan but these are awesome.

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
(makes 24 big cookies)
1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons boiling water
7 ounces large semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (or use coarsely chopped chocolate bars)
about 1/4 cup sugar

1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or SilPat.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa.
3. In a large bowl, beat together butter and fresh ginger with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add brown sugar and beat until combined. Add molasses and beat until combined. Make sure to scrape the bowl to make sure mixture is well-combined.
4. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda with boiling water. Add 1/2 flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until combined. Add baking soda and water and beat. Add the rest of the flour and beat until combined. Scrape down the bowl as necessary.
5. Mix in chocolate chips or chunks with a spatula. Scrape dough into plastic wrap, flatten to 1 inch thick and wrap well. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. I would say overnight because the dough is quite sticky.
6. After dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Remove dough from the fridge and divide it into 24 pieces. Place on prepared baking sheets. Chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
7. Take each piece of dough and roll it into a ball and then roll it into the sugar. Place on baking sheet, about 2" apart (they spread a lot). I needed to use a spatula to remove the dough from the baking sheet as it stuck a little.
8. Bake cookies for about 12 minutes or until cracks form on tops of cookies. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes. Take cookies off baking sheets and cool completely on racks.

Store cookies at room temperature. I didn't bake enough to freeze but I bet they freeze just fine.

Note: I made no modifications for altitude.

Link to PDF of Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Recipe

Friday, December 18, 2009

I love chocolate. Not all chocolate. Only really good chocolate, like Callebaut, Cocoa Barry, Valrhona, and Scharffenberger. I have a couple of friends who not only love great chocolate like me, but are also crazy enough to make things like truffles and filled chocolates. About 12 years ago, they invited me to join their chocolate-making party. We have missed a few years since my friend Mary Ruth relocated to Arizona for the winter, but this year we made sure to get together with pounds of chocolate before she ran off to the Grand Canyon State.

Unless you want to invest in a tempering machine or are really serious about working with chocolate, you are not going to dip truffles. Chocolate has a complex crystalline structure which makes it difficult to melt to use for dipping. You can melt it easily, but getting it to set up properly is tricky. If you have ever melted a chocolate bar on your dashboard and then found it after it has set up again, you have experienced chocolate in the wrong crystalline state. The original chocolate bar is shiny, smooth when it melts in your mouth, and has snap. The re-solidified bar has none of these properties - it's dull, coarse-grained, and crumbles rather than breaking cleanly. You do not want to eat it because, aside from taste, it bears no resemblance to your original chocolate bar. Chocolate in the correct crystalline state is called "in temper" and the process of getting chocolate to this state is calling "tempering." You can temper by hand (if you care to try, Mark Bittman has an recent article in the New York Times on how) or you can spend a few hundred bucks to get a machine that will manipulate the temperature of the melted chocolate to make sure it is tempered, and then hold the chocolate at the correct temperature so it stays that way. Crazy chocolate person that I am, I have one of these machines, as do my friends Mary Ruth and Ronnie.

Maybe you don't want to play with melting chocolate like Mr. Bittman? You just want to impress your friends with some good chocolate. Luckily, truffles are perfectly wonderful if they aren't dipped in chocolate. The centers, which are made of ganache, are easy to make. A little messy, but do-able by anyone. Instead of dipping them in chocolate, you roll them in cocoa. These truffles actually look more like their namesake, the mushroom truffle. The cocoa is supposed to look like the soil that clings to the mushroom, which grows underground.

Ganache is so simple yet so wonderful. In its simplest incarnation, it's chocolate and cream. It's pretty decadent stuff, provided you use high quality chocolate. Nowadays, you can find good chocolate in most supermarkets. I have seen Ghiradelli and Guittard in my local supermarkets. Both are decent, though not exceptional, American-made chocolates (Guittard does make some excellent chocolate but you are not likely to see it at your local supermarket). The brands I mentioned at the start of this entry are all exceptional chocolates and, except for Scharffenberger, European-made. Scharffenberger is a standout for an American chocolate. You can usually find these chocolates at Whole Foods and they are quite a bit more expensive.

This basic recipe is from Nick Malgieri's Chocolate. You can change up the liquor. Don't add too much additional liquid though, because the truffles will be too soft to shape. This year I added 2 tablespoons of Chambord, a French liqueur made from black and red raspberries.

Ganache for Truffles
(makes 35 - 50 truffles depending on the size)

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
9 ounces bittersweet, semisweet or milk chocolate, melted
up to 2 tablespoons of liquor(s) of your choice
about 2 cups of sifted cocoa

1. Combine cream, butter, and corn syrup in a stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Remove from heat and allow to cool 5 minutes.
2. Add cream mixture to melted chocolate and whisk smooth. Whisk in liquor.
3. Allow ganache to cool for 2-3 hours at room temperature.
4. At this point, you can scoop them with a melon baller which will result in a dense truffle. Or, you can whip the ganache with an electric mixer for about a minute and then scoop out the truffles, which will result in a lighter truffle. Place the balls of ganache on a sheet pan lined with waxed paper. Don't worry if they are rough; you will make them round later.
5. Place the sheet pan in the freezer to firm up the ganache.
6. If you want to stay cleaner, pull on some latex gloves. Take the ganache out of the freezer, and roll each ball in your palm to make them round. Don't work them too long because they will melt. Place back on the sheet pan.
7. After you have rounded all the truffles, drop them one by one in the cocoa, and fish them out, shaking off excess cocoa.
8. To store, place in a tightly-lidded container and store for up to 1 week at a cool temperature.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lamb, Lentil and Kale Soup

I derived this soup recipe from a lamb stew recipe in The Gourmet Garage Cookbook. I wanted a soup, not a stew, but the flavor combination was intriguing. It is originally an Iranian recipe and full of wonderful herbal flavors. It is substantial from the lamb and lentils but the flavor is light and refreshing.

Lamb, Lentil & Kale Soup
(serves 8)

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound stew lamb, cut into small dice
3 medium leeks, white and light green part, cleaned well and chopped
3 scallions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch of kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons fresh dill, coarsely chopped
2 cups fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 cups chicken stock
1 cup lentils, rinsed
2 teaspoons lemon zest
3 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter with 1 tablespoon oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Fry lamb in two batches until browned. Remove lamb with a slotted spoon and reserve.
2. Melt remaining butter with remaining olive oil in soup pot, and reduce heat to medium. Saute leeks, scallions and garlic until tender.
3. Add kale, dill, and parsley and cook until kale is wilted.
4. Stir in turmeric, pepper and salt and cook for a minute or two.
5. Add cooked lamb, chicken stock and lentils. Bring soup to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
6. Add lemon zest and lemon juice, cover, and cook for an hour or until lentils are tender.
7. Taste for salt before serving.

Note: You can substitute 1 pound of ground lamb for the diced lamb. I prefer the texture of the diced lamb.

Link to PDF of Lamb, Lentil and Kale Soup Recipe

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rugelach - a Special Cookie for the Holidays

My grandmother Rose made fantastic rugelach. Rugelach are rich, buttery cookies rolled around chopped nuts mixed with cinnamon sugar, though I have seen them filled with chocolate. Rugelach are not easy to make because the dough is very soft. Don't even attempt to make them in hot, sticky weather. You will end up with a mess. If your kitchen is very warm, even in the winter, I suggest turning down the heat when you roll these out. Because winter is the best time to make these cookies, they are perfect for bestowing on your friends for Christmas or Hannukah. They will be impressed.

This recipe is from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies(1977). When I asked my mom for her mother's rugelach recipe, she said use Heatter's. Grandmother Rose and Ms. Heatter both use a dough with cream cheese and butter. There are other variations for the dough, but I think this one is the best. Not the easiest, but the best.

(makes 36 cookies)

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 pound cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sifted all purpose flour

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup dried currants
5 ounces (1 1/4 cups) walnuts, finely chopped

1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon water

1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and cream cheese until completely blended and smooth. Beat in salt. Reduce speed to low and slowly add flour. The dough will come together towards the end to form a ball on the beaters.
2. Remove from the bowl, flour your hands and knead lightly. Roll into a short, fat roll and cut the roll into 3 even pieces. Form each piece into a ball, flatten into a thick disc, and wrap each disc tightly in plastic wrap. 3. Refrigerate overnight. The dough has to be thoroughly chilled or it will be too soft to roll out.
4. The next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set two racks to divide the oven into thirds. Line 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  
5. Stir together the filling sugar and cinnamon.
6. Place one ball of dough on a well-floured container or board. I use a marble board because it stays cool, but the countertop works as well. Flour a rolling pin and pound the dough to soften it slightly. Roll out the dough into a 12" circle. To keep the dough from sticking, spin it a quarter turn as you roll it out. Sprinkle on more flour if the dough starts to stick.
7. Brush the dough with 1 tablespoon melted butter and quickly, before the butter hardens, sprinkle with one-third of the cinnamon sugar. Sprinkle with one-third of the currants and one-third of the nuts. Lightly press the currants and nuts into the dough with the rolling pin.
8. With a pizza wheel or a long, sharp knife, cut the dough into 12 pie-shaped wedges (like cutting up a pizza into 12 slices). Starting at the fat end, roll up the dough to the pointy end. Place the cookie, point down, on prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining wedges, spacing them 1" apart.
9. Clean up all the stray nuts and currants, and flour the board again. Roll out second ball of dough and assemble cookies. Repeat for third ball of dough.
10. In a small bowl, combine egg yolk and water. Brush glaze on top of cookies.
11. Bake cookies for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Check the bottoms to make sure they don't burn. As soon as cookies come out of the oven, transfer them from the cookie sheet to a rack to cool.

Note: These cookies are best within 2 days of baking, but they freeze extremely well. No adjustments are necessary for altitude.

Link to Recipe for Rugelach

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Turkey Creole with Chayote

Here's another recipe from my mom, provenance unknown. A few things I like about this recipe:

  • It stretches a pound of ground meat to feed 8.
  • It's full of lots of healthy vegetables.
  • It's hearty, good for a cold winter night.
  • I have modified it to use chayote rather than okra. I'm a big fan of chayote, not so much of okra.
Chayote is a subtropical American squash. The name "chayote" is Mexican but it is also a popular vegetable in Louisiana where it goes by the name mirliton. So, using it here in a recipe for Turkey Creole is not as strange as you might think. Chayote is an excellent squash and deserves to be eaten more often. I prefer it to zucchini. It's less watery, sweeter, and just plain tastier.

You can use okra, if that is your preference. I've included it as a substitute for the chayote in the recipe.

Ground Turkey Creole
(serves 8)

2 tablespoons butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 green pepper, cut into 1" chunks
1 pound raw ground turkey (or use ground beef)
2 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 bay leaves
2 chayote squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4" chunks (or a 10 ounce box of frozen cut okra, slightly thawed)

1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stoneground
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
3/4 cup diced red and/or green pepper

1. In a large dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Add turkey and cook, stirring to break into small chunks, until browned.
2. Add onions, green pepper, and saute until tender.
3. Add tomatoes and seasonings in filling. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Remove cover and simmer for 30 more minutes.
4. Add chayote (or okra) and cooked uncovered for another 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
6. To make the topping, combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
7. Beat buttermilk, oil and eggs together. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just to combine. Fold in chopped peppers.
8. Remove bay leaves from filling. Spoon topping onto filling and spread to cover filling.
9. Bake for 25 minutes until topping is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Notes: For 5000 ft. altitude, reduce baking powder to 3/4 teaspoon. You can use whole canned tomatoes rather than crushed. Mash them up or puree them in a food processor before adding to filling.

Link to Recipe for Ground Turkey Creole

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hannukah is coming - it's time for Latkes!

Hannukah (or however you want to spell it) starts on the night of December 11. Since potato latkes are a huge favorite in my house, Hannukah is greatly anticipated each year. Hannukah is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, but its proximity to Christmas has elevated its importance. Honestly, any holiday that includes crunchy fried potatoes is plenty important in my book.

Good latkes are not hard to make but they take some work. And there is that pan of hot oil that spatters all over the place. I don't have a good solution for that, but they are worth the mess at least once a year. And that time of year is fast approaching.

Latkes are always best fresh out of the frying pan. They can be cooled on a rack, refrigerated, and reheated in a 350 degree F oven until hot. They will never be as delicious as fresh but they are still pretty darn good. They can also be frozen. Freeze them on a sheet pan in a single layer. Once they are frozen, you can put them in a plastic bag; they won't stick together. You don't need to thaw them first but you should reheat them at 300 degrees to prevent over-browning.

This recipe is based on one in Ethnic Cuisine by Elisabeth Rozin. Her recipe calls for frying the potatoes in schmaltz, aka rendered chicken fat. Since most of us don't have schmaltz sitting around, I have substituted olive oil. It's a marriage of my Ashkenazi heritage with my husband's Sephardic background.

Potato Latkes
(serves 4-6 as a main dish, 8-12 as a side dish)

8 large russet potatoes
1 large onion
3 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
olive oil for frying (pure is preferred over extra-virgin here)

1. Peel potatoes and soak for 1 hour in cold water to cover. Drain and dry well.
2. Coarsely grate the potatoes in the food processor. Remove the blade but leave the potatoes in the food processor bowl.
3. Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the potatoes, catching the moisture in a small bowl. The easiest way to do this is to take small handfuls of the potatoes and squeeze hard. Then put the squeezed potatoes into a large bowl.
4. Drain off any water left in the food processor but transfer any potato starch to the large bowl. Do the same with the small bowl and transfer any potato starch to the large bowl.
5. Lightly beat the eggs in the small bowl and add to the potatoes.
6. Finely grate the onion in the food processor and add to the potatoes.
7. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper to the potatoes. Mix to combine. Hands are the best tool here. Make sure to combine the the flour and potato starch well.
8. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large frying pan. To get the oil hot enough for quick frying, you will need moderate to moderate high heat.
9. When the oil is hot, gently drop small handfuls of potato mixture into frying pan. Flatten out potatoes with a spatula. Don't try to make the pancake too neat. The bits of potato that stick out are the crunchiest part.
10. When the pancakes are nicely browned, carefully flip over and cook the other side until browned.
11. For best crunch, let cool for a couple of minutes and eat. OK, if you have to share them, place on a rack over a sheet pan in a 180 degree F oven. Cook the remaining potatoes, adding more oil to the frying pan as needed. No one said this was a low-fat recipe!

I like to eat my latkes with ketchup which I'm sure is considered sacrilegious by some. Applesauce is the traditional accompaniment.

Note: A box grater works as well, but you need to grate the potatoes into a bowl so you can catch the potato starch. And expect to shed some tears grating the onion!

Link to PDF of Potato Latkes Recipe