Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Cookie Challenge: Party Edition

Party Cookie

Last week, I attended a panel about women entrepreneurs in the food industry. One of the speakers started a baking business while working full time as a corporate lawyer. She spoke of sleeping just four hours a night, churning out bagels and rugelach until the wee hours of the morning, then suiting up for a long day with demanding clients.

Despite having worked a twelve hour day, I went home right after the panel and baked some M and M pretzel bars--no lawyer's gonna beat me in the overachiever olympics. As I cut into the pretzel bars around 10:30 that night however, eyes drooping, I reevaluated my competitiveness. Baking, for me, is supposed to be fun--forcing oneself into exhaustion to meet some ridiculous, self-imposed "challenge" makes no sense at all.

That said, our annual holiday open house this weekend had no shortage of cookies on the buffet table--some, like the parmesan biscotti and peanut butter oatmeal cookies, were the result of savvy dough freezing earlier in the month. Others, including the linzers, cheddar thumbprints, and cranberry orange walnut drop cookies, were whipped up Friday night. All are repeat recipes--the thumbprints come from last year's Washington Post, which recommends either onion jam or pepper jelly for the filling. The simple cranberry orange cookies have been in my repetoire since 2002, a little bit different every time. The original recipe calls for pistachios, fresh ginger and fresh cranberries, but I left them out this year and they were still a hit. 

Friday, December 09, 2011

Christmas Cookie Challenge: Day 9, Double Ginger Chip

Double Ginger Chip

Twenty-five days of cookies? What the hell was I thinking? More sane food bloggers give you only twelve days of cookies in December. As does the Food Network, and they have an army of cooks.

This is a long way of saying--Day 8? No cookies were made. I managed to eat quite a few, though--including the peppermint splodges, crushed and mixed into vanilla ice cream.

Today, though, I've begun to recover my honor--making these easy Double Ginger Chip cookies from 101 Cookbooks. I made a few adjustments--regular flour, regular sugar, and chopped candied ginger in place of the real stuff. They're spicy, chewy, and small enough that you always have room for just one more.
Christmas Cookie Challenge

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Christmas Cookie Challenge: Day 7, Oatmeal Peanut Butter White Chocolate Chip

peanut butter oatmeal white chocolate chip

These cookies are brought to you by my friend Keisha, as well as a few scotches at Off the Record, and some dumplings at Mandu. I'm not exactly sure how I was able to get these out of my oven this evening--but damn, they are so easy, even an exhausted girl like me can make them.

The recipe is here--I substituted butter for both the margarine and the shortening--though Keisha says the shortening makes the edges crisp up, which sounds delightful, I just didn't have any. Also on Keisha's recommendation, I added about a cup of white chocolate chips. Ridiculously delicious.

Christmas Cookie Challenge

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Christmas Cookie Challenge, Day 6: Meyer Lemon Bites

meyer lemon bites

As soon as Jon started zesting the Meyer lemons for these cookies, the smell transported me back to Los Angeles (yes, assistance was required to get these in the oven tonight).  Oh how I miss the land of citrus and sunshine some days. Until we make our millions and retire in Malibu, these bastardized lemon bars--with ridiculously expensive gourmet grocery store Meyers--will have to suffice.

I first made--and blogged--these in 2007, you can find the recipe here.  Though I complain about the price above, Meyers are worth a splurge every now and then, sweet and fragrant, you could almost eat them out of hand.

Christmas Cookie Challenge

Monday, December 05, 2011

Christmas Cookie Challenge: Day 5, Black Pepper Parmesan Biscotti

black peper parmesan biscotti

Merely five days in, and I'm on sugar overload. Time for a savory recipe: Black Pepper and Parmesan Biscotti. All evidence to the contrary, I'm actually a savory gal--I'll take some salty olives and cheese over chocolate any day. Or, in this case, salty cheese, spicy pepper, and--well--still--lots of butter.  Though over at the Copywriters' Kitchen they substituted olive oil for butter with no ill effects.

Biscotti are a treat so nice you bake them twice, ensuring crisp edges all around. The dough freezes beautifully--I tucked away three-quarters of this batch for a later date.

Christmas Cookie Challenge

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Christmas Cookie Challenge: Day 4, Triple Chocolate Spice Cookies

Triple Chocolate Spice Cookies

These chewy and dark beauties are my favorite so far--the richness is balanced by tart currents and a hint of pepper adds a kick. They're an elegant after-dinner treat, with a cup of tea or glass of milk.

They come from the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook, with a few tweaks by me.

Triple Chocolate Spice Cookies

1/2 cup dried currents
2 tablespoons Kahlua
2 oz. semisweet chocolate
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
3 tablespoons butter
7 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
few shakes of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine currents and Kahlua in a small bowl and let sit while you prepare the rest of the batter. Combine the semisweet and bittersweet chocolates and butter in a small saucepan and melt over low heat, stir frequently. Set aside to cool.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, pepper and cayenne in a small bowl; stir to blend.

Beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl until pale and thick. Add vanilla and melted chocolate; stir to combine. Fold in the flour mixture. Stir in the currants and chocolate chips. The dough is very liquidy, but don't be alarmed--it works out just fine.

Drop dough by spoonfuls on lined cookie sheets; bake 9 to 10 minutes, until tops are shiny and they start to crack a bit.

Christmas Cookie Challenge

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Christmas Cookie Challenge: Day 3, Chestnut Butter Balls

chestnut butter balls

The author of this recipe, Deb at the Smitten Kitchen, calls these treats "Roasted Chestnut Cookies." That name isn't a lie, but it downplays a critical ingredient: Butter. Lots of it. Two sticks, to be precise. Don't get me wrong, the chestnuts make the cookies sing--rich and sweet, it's worth the effort to roast your own--definitely take Deb's advice, however, and roast more than you think you need...rotten chestnuts are a fact of life, and the only way to know is to roast it and cut it open.

I packaged these up in long-forgotten treat bags for some friends--a three-mile run this afternoon is not nearly enough to counteract a whole batch, so, get them out of the kitchen--quick!

Christmas Cookie Challenge

Friday, December 02, 2011

Christmas Cookie Challenge: Day 2, Peppermint Splodges

peppermit splodges

I should've known better. On what planet would baking a peppermint patty inside chocolate cookie dough at 350 for 15 minutes turn out like this, Rachael Ray's purported Double Chocolate Cookies with a Peppermint Surprise:

 Alas, I now have two pans of splodge--damn tasty, but certainly not worth the effort of wrapping each peppermint patty in sticky chocolate cookie dough. Maybe they can be crumbled up and served over ice cream? Because in a month of cookies, that's just what I need. Some ice cream.

Christmas Cookie Challenge

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Christmas Cookie Challenge: Day 1, Peanut Butter Blossoms

Peanut Butter Blossoms

Alright, here's the plan. Twenty-five days until Christmas, twenty-five different cookies. Every day the oven goes on, and every day something delicious comes out.

First up--the ubiquitous Peanut Butter Blossoms. Nearly every recipe I found warned, "Don't use natural peanut butter." Not a one told me why, however, so I threw caution to the wind, and used a butter from the farmer's market with just one ingredient: peanuts. Disaster did not follow, so I encourage you to avoid the oily, high-fructose industrial slop.

As for the Hershey Kisses, I used a mix of dark chocolate and some crazy "aerated" kisses. The airy ones lost their shape quickly, while the shiny dark ones look and taste better.

So, have a favorite cookie recipe for me? Want to play along? Want a cookie delivery? Let me know. Though J. may beg to differ, we can't eat 25 batches of cookies alone.

Christmas Cookie Challenge

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tomatoes, Under the Wire

Two (um, Three!) years ago, I shared my end of summer adventures with tomato jam, tomato focaccia, a little tomato salad. This year, the sequence was repeated--albeit a bit later and with more urgency given that the season was quickly drawing to a close.  No one needs another recipe for a tomato salad, but if you haven't yet tried Mark Bittman's simple, spicy tomato jam, you're missing out.

To prepare for the coming cold and wet months, I also oven-dried a few pints of cherry tomatoes--the easiest way to preserve these fruits. Slice the tomatoes in half, turn the oven to warm, and let them sit inside on a cookie sheet over night. In the morning, let them cool, then bag them and store in the freezer. I use them throughout the winter on pizza and in sauces--a burst of summer sweetness in January makes slogging through months of winter squash and kale a bit easier. If you're feeling more ambitious, I recommend tackling Chez Pim's amazing tomato confit--similar idea, even more delicious end product.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Banana Caramel Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

 Birthday cake, morning after (a.k.a. breakfast).

She spent time in jail, was savaged by Cybil Shepard in the made-for-TV movie, and looks pretty freakin' ridiculous on the October cover of her eponymous magazine. Yet...the woman knows how to bake something fierce, and for that, Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook remains my go-to resource for birthdays and other celebrations.

This time it was her Banana Caramel Cake that caught my eye. The cake layers are a richer version of banana bread and dead simple to make. The filling inbetween is also quite easy and lots of fun--you make a quick caramel on the stove, just sugar and butter, and then saute some banana slices until brown. Cutting your slices on the thicker side helps, though no worries if they break, you can piece them together when you put them on the cake.

I deviated from Queen Martha on the frosting--as I did on Meyer Lemon Cake I made for J's birthday a few years ago. Instead of mascarpone, I substituted a simple cream cheese frosting: 16 ounces of cream cheese, approximately 2 cups of sifted powdered sugar, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla, all mixed together. Also, instead of futzing with a separate batch of caramel to decorate, I just drizzled some of the leftover sauce from the caramelized bananas across the top.

In addition to the lemon cake, I've made her pear bundt cake (that's it, up above, in my blog's header), cheesecake thumbprints, savory caraway cheese crisps, chocolate shortbread fingers, apple spice layer cake, apple crumb pie, cherry slab pie, honey whole wheat bread, cranberry pecan rye bread, parkerhouse rolls...and...whew...I think that's it...and every one was delicious. She may be crazy, but woman knows her baked goods.  

Monday, September 05, 2011

Perfect Summer Dishes at Palena & Estadio

Peach Salad with Mint, Goat Cheese and Almonds @ Estadio

Peach salad with mint, almonds and goat cheese at Estadio, 14th Street, Washington, DC. Making this at home would be a breeze--if you need a recipe, here's something similar.

The pool closes today, the sky was dark when I woke up at 6 am, and the tips of the leaves on the oak in the yard are hinting at the flame colors to come. All signs that summer is ending, but c'mon--this ain't the Midwest--the thermometer will register above 75 many times this September. Here's hoping that Palena Cafe and Estadio will continue to feature these dishes on their menus for at least a few more weeks--or, if you'd like, I've linked to similar recipes so you can try them at home while the corn and peaches still overflow.

Radishes with Tarragon Butter @ Estadio

Radishes with tarragon butter at salt at Estadio. We needed about double the radishes for that amount of butter, but man, was it delicious. Ideas for other herb compound butters here.

corn panna cotta with peach ice cream @ Palena Cafe

Sweet corn panna cotta with roasted corn kernels and peach ice cream at Palena Cafe, Connecticut Ave
, Cleveland Park, DC. If I'm going to order a dessert at a restaurant, I prefer that it's something I'd never make at home, but if you're ambitious enough to try this one, a similar recipe is here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Peach-Almond Crostata, Interrupted


FEMA recommends stocking up on water, canned food, and batteries during a hurricane. Me? I rush to the Saturday Courthouse Farmers Market, to buy peaches from Toigo Orchards--I won't let little ol' Irene deny me my favorite late summer fruit.


She did, however, delay me. After I made a simple peach salsa to munch on while making dinner, Irene decided to knock over a tree down the road, and --poof-- our power was gone. So much for the peach crostata I had in the works--the filling was made, the crust rolled, and the first fruit halved, ready for slicing. We have a gas stove, but I wasn't willing to mess with the temperature regulation without electricity.

With J's help, I quickly tupperware'd the crostata's components, and crossed my fingers that we'd have the power back on before the fridge went sour. Fortunately, by Sunday night we were in the clear, and the dessert was easy to compile, delicious to eat.


The recipe comes from Mario Batali's Babbo Cookbook and I followed it closely--you can find it here. I added some fresh thyme to the crumble topping, kept the peels on my peaches, and skipped both the honey butter and gelato. And as I learned, the almond filling, topping and crust can all be made the day before, making for an easy last minute dessert. The crumble starts to soften the next day once baked, so it's best eaten fresh.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer Vegetable Tart & Upside-down Plum Cake

Dear readers, patience is the theme of today's post. Something I've gotten a lot better at since starting this blog over five years ago. Something you must have in spades if you still check in here once and awhile to see if I'll post!

See that corner of plum cake above? I've made this cake before--every summer since I discovered it in the LA Times in 2004. But I've been lazy. When I wrote about it here in 2006, I gave you the adapted, fast version, in which I skipped browning of the butter and steeping the milk with whole vanilla bean. How wrong I was. Last night I made this in its full and fussy glory, and man, the caramel-y butter and flecks of real vanilla are worth a sink full of extra dishes. Patience.

That vegetable tart across the table? Five years ago, I wouldn't have taken the time to make it so delicious. This time, I made a pate brisee, instead of a cheap and easy puff pastry. I roasted the zucchini and eggplant, after brushing the cubes with olive oil, crushed garlic, and thyme from my garden--instead of tossing the raw cubes on the tart in the hopes they'd cook up enough there.

And--the most difficult--the patience to wait all year long--until the plums are ripe, the tomatoes are bursting, and the sweet corn is fresh from the stalk--to make a delicious summer dinner, best enjoyed on the patio, under the stars.

Summer Vegetable Tart

Pate brisee (I used Martha Stewart's recipe)
1 log goat cheese, softened
2 tbsp pesto (I used some I made/froze earlier this summer)
1/2 large eggplant, cubed
1 large zucchini, cubed
1 garlic clove, crushed
thyme leaves, about 1 tbsp
olive oil
kernels from two ears of corn
couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes, chopped
fresh basil
fresh chives

Heat oven to 425. Roll out pate brisee and press into a tart pan (I used an 8 inch square pan). Chill in the fridge while you put the eggplant and zucchini on a rimmed baking sheet, and brush with the olive oil, garlic and thyme. Don't forget the salt and pepper. Roast veggies in the oven until browned--about 20 minutes or so. Take out of the oven, mix in a large bowl with corn and tomatoes.

Take out your crust, put it in the oven. Blind bake for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the goat cheese and pesto together. When the crust is done, take it out, let it cool for a bit, and gently spread the goat cheese mixture across it. Then, add the veggies evenly over the top. If you have more veggies than crust space, save 'em for a salad.

Sprinkle sea salt on top of the tart, and bake it in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, until crust is browned and veggies are too. While it bakes, make ribbons out of your basil, and batons out of your chives. Sprinkle the herbs liberally on the top of the tart when it's done. Serve with a big spinach salad and a glass of chardonnay.  Save room for plum cake!