Austrian raspberry shortbread.

I’ve been posting cookies lately but can I (please) post one more?  You won’t mind?  I promise, after this one I’ll be posting savory eats for at least a week or two.  Plus, this is not just a cookie—it’s a bar cookie and it’s outstanding.  The most impressive cookie I had to offer this Christmas.  When someone asked what it was, my father chimed in: Who cares what it is! It’s delicious! And my father is the pickiest eater I know.

It takes a little elbow grease—you need to grate the frozen dough—but it’s the perfect cookie to make for your family, or your boss, or anyone you want to please.  It harkens the good old days when mixes weren’t in any pantries and Betty Crocker wasn’t simply a name on a box.  Don’t forgo the grating and don’t press down on the grated dough when sprinkling it into the pan—it’s all part of the perfect crumbly, almost coffee-cake texture that makes this cookie shine.

The recipe is from Smitten Kitchen, who got it here.  SK suggests adding some vanilla or lemon (or both) to the dough.  I planned to do just that, but forgot, and I consequentially was glad I did.  I thought the pleasingly simple shortbread dough highlighted the raspberry jam that’s spread between the layers; but of course you should choose for yourself.

I know that Christmas has past but this cookie is too good to wait a whole year for.  Perhaps New Year’s brunch?  Or maybe you have some house guests to feed?  Even if it’s just you and your dog (or cat or fish), you simply must make this cookie.  It keeps well and freezes equally so.  There’s no excuse—It’s delicious!

Austrian Raspberry Shortbread

from Epicurious, a recipe by Gale Gand, Rick Tramonto, Julia Moskin via the Smitten Kitchen

makes about 36 small squares

  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup raspberry jam, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Cream the butter in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer) until soft and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and mix well.

Mix the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add to the butter and egg yolk mixture and mix just until incorporated and the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and form into two balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and freeze at least 2 hours or overnight (or as long as a month, if you like).

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove one ball of dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it by hand or with the grating disk in a food processor into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan or a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Make sure the surface is covered evenly with shreds of dough.

With the back of a spoon or a flexible spatula, spread the jam over the surface, to within 1/2 inch of the edge all the way around. Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it over the entire surface.

Bake until lightly golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. As soon as the shortbread comes out of the oven, dust with confectioners’ sugar. Cool on a wire rack, then cut in the pan with a serrated knife.

Whole-wheat peanut butter cookies with raw sugar.

The other day, I came across an old cookbook that Jim’s aunt Maria gave me.  Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies, from 1977.  It’s covered in notes from Maria—her favorites, her leave ’ems—with charm that only an old, used cookbook can have.  And it turned out to be a Christmas miracle; every recipe I’ve tried is delicious and practically fool-proof—the perfect pick me-up just as I got cookie fatigue, bored of the regular olds and needing some inspiration.  Maida, who won a James Beard award for this cookbook, makes cookies exciting.

The whole wheat peanut butter cookie with raw sugar immediately caught my eye—it’s made of whole-wheat pastry flour, and the only sweetener is raw sugar.  It’s probably a cookie conceived in the 60’s, a total hippie-cookie.  What’s even more exciting though, is that it is good. Real good.

The cookies are crunchy, hardly sweet, and taste mildly of peanut butter.  The nutty whole-wheat pastry flour reiterates the peanut butter flavor, as well as emphasizes the raw sugar’s crunch with it’s grainy texture.  The texture, really, is the best part—at once buttery and crumbly, with crisp edges and a moist but not soft middle.  Cracker-like.

It’s a very subtle, sophisticated cookie—an adult’s cookie just perfect sitting among the other Christmas chocolate, sugar, and gingerbread cookies.  It could also accompany a cheese plate.  Or—better yet—you could serve these late Christmas Eve, leaving a few with a tall glass of milk for that fat, jolly guy.  Just remember the carrots for his donkeys.

Whole-Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies

from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies

makes 48 cookies

  • 1 ¼ cups unsifted whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • generous ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ pound (1 stick) butter
  • ½ cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 cup raw sugar
  • 1 egg

Sift together this flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside.  In the large bowl of a stand mixer cream the butter.  Add the peanut butter and beat until smooth.  Add the raw sugar and beat well, then add the egg and beat well again.  On low speed gradually add the sifted dry ingredients, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating only until smooth.

Tear off a piece of wax paper about 16 inches long.  Spoon the dough lenthwise down the center of the paper in a heavy strip about 10 to 11 inches long.  Fold the long sides of the paper over the dough and, with your hands, shape the dough into a long, round or oblong roll, 12 inches long.  Wrap the dough in the wax paper.

Slide a cookie sheet under the dough and transfer it to the freezer or refridgerator until firm (or as much longer as you wish).

Unwrap the dough and replace it on the wax paper.  With a sharp knife cut the dough into slices ¼ inch think and place them 1 inche apart on unbuttered cookie sheets.

Bake for 15 minutes or a little longer, until the cookies are lightly colored and semifirm to the touch.  Reverse the sheets top to bottom and front to back to insure even browning.

With a wide metal spatula transfer the cookies to the rack to cool.

We Can’t Let This Bank Fail

I’ve worked in the non-profit sector so I know first-hand that charities get hit hard in times of economic stress.  Sad, because it’s during such times that the jobless rates go up, and more and more people struggle to provide food for themselves and their families.  Bruce Springsteen has begun a campaign on behalf of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, raising awareness of hunger in New Jersey.  And I’ve joined up with the group of New Jersey bloggers (spearheaded by Deborah of Jersey Bites) to help.

• More than 35 million Americans, including 12 million children, either live with or are on the verge of hunger. – USDA, Household Food Security in the United States, 2006

• The number of families coming to churches and food banks trying to get help to feed their families has increased approximately 20 percent. – National Anti-Hunger Organizations, 2008 Blueprint to End Hunger

• According to a recent survey, 6 percent of Americans said they or someone in their immediate family has gone to bed hungry in the past month because they could not afford enough food. – 2008 Hormel Hunger Survey

• One out of every five New Jersey families does not earn enough to afford the basic necessities – housing, food and child care – although 85 percent of these households have at least one family member who is working. – Poverty Research Institute, June 2008

• In New Jersey alone, an estimated 250,000 new clients will be seeking sustenance this year from the state’s food banks. – “No Food on the table,” By Judy Peet, The Star-Ledger, Oct. 23, 2008

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“The Community FoodBank of New Jersey is facing a dire shortage of food, so much so that – without the public’s support – it may, for the first time in its history, begin to ration food. This is a state-wide crisis, with the unstable economy resulting in a 30 percent increase in those needing food. In years past, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey has provided assistance to more than 500,000 New Jerseyans, but expects to see a major uptick in need this year, especially during the winter months when people often struggle between paying heating and food bills.”

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Make a monetary contribution: Visit http://www.njfoodbank.org/.
  2. Donate food: Drop off a bag of food at your local food pantry.
  3. Organize a food drive: We can help explain the logistics of starting a food drive. Just call 908-355-FOOD.
  4. Help “Check Out Hunger:” Look for the “Check Out Hunger” coupons at your local supermarket and donate. No donation is too small!

I know that many of my readers are not from New Jersey, but hey, why dontcha donate anyway?  Or figure out if and where the community food banks are in your own state.  There are hungry people everywhere… and they all need our help.

Finally, the Trenton area is very dear to my heart, and I know that many are suffering there.  If you can, please visit the website of Mercer Street Friends and learn the ways that you can give.

If you have any questions—or if you are in New Jersey and in need—please email me.

Happy Holidays and wishes of good health, cheer, and full bellies for everyone!

Please click ‘more’ to view the list of Bloggers Participating in the “We Can’t Let This Blog Fail Campaign”.

Continue reading “We Can’t Let This Bank Fail”

They are spicy. And they are good.

These are the spiciest, most molassesy-est cookies I have ever eaten.  And they are good. Perfect, even, for a cold holiday evening with a glass of peaty scotch—a cookie not quite suited for a tall glass of milk, but superb with spirits, eggnog, or hot mulled cider.  I made them to kick-start my first-ever year of cookie-baking for Christmas.  I thought they would be sufficiently holly, jolly, and nice—and would keep me in good spirits throughout a week of cookie madness that I’m sure will bring on many expletives, cookie-cursing, and a bag of coal in my stocking.

Because not only did I agree to cook the brunt of Christmas dinner at my sister’s this holiday, but I’ve decided to bring dozens and dozens (and dozens) of cookies with me.  So far, so good, though I’ve only made two kinds.  I do have all the recipe-finding and shopping done for the others, and I find that part to be the hardest.  Or at least I’ll say so now, while I’m sipping my morning coffee and gazing out the window towards the river.  Later, when I’m covered in flour and there’s dirty dishes everywhere, I may have a different opinion.

But I seriously doubt that I’ll ever regret signing on to the dinner (which I’m super excited about, since I hardly ever get to cook for my family) or the cookies.  I mean, when all is said and done (even if there is a mound of dishes in the sink), when you finally get to plop down on the couch, lift your cocoa-powder splotched feet, and award yourself a sample (or 3) of each and every delectable that you’ve just created, how can anyone regret the process?  And I for one am extra lucky, because I have a very weak-willed boyfriend who will do anything, even the dishes, to share in my sampling.

These cookies in particular are good graft for the weak-willed.  Their heady aroma, of ginger and clove and allspice and molasses, fills the air, even before they enter the oven, as you whip them into a batter.  I based the recipe off on one from Cook’s Illustrated, using 2 sticks of butter instead of 1 ½ because I had mistaken the directions.  I have to laugh at myself now, as I ran to Jim terror-stricken, telling him that I had mucked up everything.  He looked at me like I was crazy—I had put too much butter? And I was upset?  The extra butter of course didn’t muck up a thing, and I like to think it enhanced the consistency, but go by the original recipe if you are like, health-conscious or something.  For the molasses, because I am a sucker for the potency of blackstrap, I used a mixture of it with natural molasses to up the spiciness factor, the result being intense and delicious. They are spicy.  And they are good.

Dark Spice Cookies

(slightly) adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, January 2002

makes about 22 cookies

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup for dipping
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened but still cool
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar (about 2 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup natural molasses
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Place 1/2 cup sugar for dipping in 8- or 9-inch cake pan.

Whisk flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in medium bowl until thoroughly combined; set aside.

In standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter with brown and granulated sugars at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and add yolk and vanilla; increase speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Reduce speed to medium-low and add molasseses; beat until fully incorporated, about 20 seconds, scraping bottom and sides of bowl once with rubber spatula. Reduce speed to lowest setting; add flour mixture and beat until just incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping bowl down once. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no pockets of flour remain at bottom. Dough will be soft.

Using tablespoon measure, scoop heaping tablespoon of dough and roll between palms into 11/2-inch ball; drop ball into cake pan with sugar and repeat to form about 4 balls. Toss balls in sugar to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies are browned, still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will look raw between cracks and seem underdone), about 11 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Do not overbake.

Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes, then use wide metal spatula to transfer cookies to wire rack; cool cookies to room temperature.

Making love to your taste buds.

Brown butter is a labor of love. It takes time and a keen eye and practically continuous stirring to get it right. It can go from perfection to disaster in mere seconds. But, if you are able to bring the butter right to the edge of Blackened-Butter Abyss, when it’s exquisitely nutty and a rich brown, whatever you are serving will benefit from it in scores. Because we all know butter is tasty.  But when you times it by ten (which is how I rate brown butter), it’s not just tasty, it’s sexy, it’s… making love to your taste buds.

And, though every browned butter recipe is special, this one is even more so.  It takes dainty (otherwise a bit boring) broccolini and envelopes it in a luscious shallot-garlic-and-pecan brown butter sauce. Yes. Pecan brown butter.  And yes, it is as good as you can imagine.  The whole dish is nutty and buttery and garlicky.  And it’s down-right pretty on the plate—make sure not to take off too much of the slender broccolini stems, those long legs look (and taste) beautiful.

I found the recipe in the latest Bon Appetit (I’ve had some great luck with Bon Appetit recipes in the past few months—though it may be Gourmet’s red-headed stepchild) and served it at Thanksgiving.  It can be made hours ahead and re-heated on the stove-top when you are about to eat—so if you were thinking of not serving this for the holidays, think again.  I’ll be remaking it for Christmas… and New Year’s… and President’s Day… and whenever I can find the excuse.

Broccolini with Pecan Brown Butter

adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2008

serves 6

If you are nervous about making brown butter, here is a good color guide for you.

  • 5 bunches broccolini, cut off at the very bottom, hard part of the stems
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter + 1 tablespoon if making ahead and reheating
  • 5 shallots, minced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup pecans, crushed
  • kosher salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add broccolini and cook for about 3-4 minutes.  Drain and put in ice water.

In a large skillet, add butter and melt.  Add shallots, garlic, pecans and cook until shallots are soft.  Turn the burner to medium-high and begin to brown the butter, stirring constantly, until it turns a rich brown color and has a nutty aroma (this is a little hard to figure because of the pecans).  When you are there, add the broccolini, reduce the heat, and toss gently until heated through and done to your liking.  Salt generously with kosher salt.  Serve hot.  If reheating later, leave broccoli in the skillet you used, then heat it up over a low heat with the extra butter until hot—about 15 minutes.

Gingerbread to get me through.

I’ve been bedridden since Monday and probably will have to stay put for another day or two—I had another epidural steroid shot this week and man, oh, man I do not fare well with those shots.  I can’t stand up straight, can’t lie anyways but flat on my back, and certainly can’t cook.

I’m thankful, however, for a few things that are getting me through it all: Jimmy has been wonderful–waiting on me hand and foot.  And to stop from being insanely bored, I spent a lot of time futzing around with the HTML of the site and am quite pleased with the new Caviar and Codfish layout (please let me know what you think!).  Then there’s the handful of recipe posts that I’ve got sitting on the back burner, just waiting to be written and the photos to be uploaded.  These posts (along-with a few Tivo’d cooking shows—Jamie at Home, Mexico: One Plate at a Time—that I haven’t had the time to watch until now) should keep me busy.  And finally, there’s gingerbread.  I knew that after my shot, the chances of being laid out were pretty great, so I made sure to bake something this weekend.  And something is right.  This gingerbread is warm, spicy, and not too sweet—the perfect treat to get me through.

While this gingerbread is certainly healing, I can also imagine it for a sophisticated tea-party treat.  Less sweet than your holiday gingerbread, using only a small amount of brown sugar and molasses, this cake focuses more on buttery moistness and its dominating fresh ginger flavor. The pear to use in this cake should be firm but fragrant, so it keeps its shape while baking but also has a sweet pear taste.  Pair it with a nice oolong, break out your good tea set, and you’ve got the blueprint for a perfect, breezy autumn afternoon.

Dark Gingerbread Pear Cake

Makes one 9-in cake//from Gourmet, October ’08

Anyone notice the picture of this cake in Gourment Magazine?  It was a flat cake with the pear bits on the bottom – not how the cake comes out when made according to the magazine’s directions.  What’s up with that?  Am I missing something?

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses (not robust or blackstrap)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup grated peeled ginger
  • 1 Bosc pear

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan, knocking out excess. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt. Melt butter with water.

Beat together brown sugar and molasses with an electric mixer until combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well. Beat in flour mixture at low speed until just combined. Add butter mixture and ginger, beating just until smooth. Pour into cake pan.

Peel pear and cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Scatter over batter. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool slightly.

Hatteras Village Vacation

So. My vacation. As you can tell from my lack of posting this week, I’m still pretending to be on it. I’m a firm believer that no vacation should last for less than 2 weeks and if I can’t still be on vacation in reality, I’m on the beach in spirit.

The vacation was wonderful. We rented a little cabana with bright yellow walls and starfish decorations. The whole area was practically to ourselves as not many people are vacationing in North Carolina in March (it’s still pretty cold there.) The first few days were tumultuously windy. With vacationy-good-cheer, we made the best of it and took long walks on the beach anyway. The weather cleared within a few days. We took nature-walks through lush sea-side forests. Champ was unwillingly washed. And we ate a ton of tuna.

On the super-windy days, we checked out the local restaurants. I won’t say our eating over vacation was overall-tasty, or on-average-satisfying because, really, it was some of the best, and some of the worst, food that I’ve had in a long time. About the worst I won’t say much—just that when we first arrived at “our little fishing village on the tip of the Outer Banks,” I was surprised to see a lot of people very overweight and otherwise un-healthy-looking. Not that I have anything against portliness, not in the least, it’s just that this kind of portliness—it’s the McDonald’s variety, not the foie gras and creme brulee type—is unnerving. The latter is no less health-hazardous but I find it less sad. The more I learn about the dreaded farm bill, and corn subsidies, and evil corporation’s PR campaigns, the more disheartening it is to see obese people, many of whom work what I assume to be (and I know because I’ve worked many of these) underpaid jobs.

I’ve got to admit at first I was amazed. In an area where you could get the freshest fish I’ve ever tasted for cheaper than usual prices, how can the people living there be overweight? I had imagined they were all slinky gods and goddess, with sheeny hair and perfect skin. And then I ate at the restaurants. A lot of them were teeming with fast-food type fare, sometimes without the fast food prices! I realized how good I’ve been eating over the past year (how bad some people in this country have been)—and how little I’ve spent to eat my way.

Jim and I always complain about how much we spend on our fancy cheese and organic fruit at Whole Foods, but we spent about triple the amount of money on a week’s worth of food on vacation—and didn’t even eat out the whole time! And jesus, money aside, most of the food sucked. See, I’m all for spending 100 bucks on a dinner that I can savor and enjoy, but spending 50 on something that belongs in a school cafeteria (and if I had it my way, it wouldn’t even belong there) is a damn shame. I wanted to do something. I wanted to scream that it’s not that hard to cook! And a bag of beans and rice is so much cheaper than a Mikkey-Dee’s! And it will even fill you up better—not the filled up I feel sick feeling that results from eating twice your daily caloric intake in one meal!

Did I say I wouldn’t say much about the worst? Whoops. Well, at least I won’t name any bad-restaurant names publicly (if you really want to know, email me) and I’ll stop ranting now and move onto the good stuff.

I had a few firsts down in North Carolina—my first crawfish, my first (enjoyed) oyster, my first taste of alligator(!) We ate the alligator solely for the novelty of it. The pieces of alligator tail were tender but also a little rubbery—somewhere between the texture of fish and pork, oddly enough. The restaurant owner who offered the alligator gave a nice lesson of how alligators are farm-raised in Louisiana—in big indoor swamps, kept dark at all times, with the doors only opened when the (assumedly-scared-shitless) farmer needs to feed his stock. Can’t say I’m hankering to eat alligator again but the dish was indeed fun.

I tried crawfish and enjoyed its lobster-like flavor and meatiness—after, that is, I shamefully admitted to the bar girl that I had no idea what to do with the things, presenting her with the two specimens I thoroughly mangled before giving up. She graciously obliged, showing me how to start by pulling off the tail (mentioning that I could suck out the head if I wanted to be “authentic”) and then how to “shimmy” the meat out. After I finished 1/2 a pound—my hands stained red from the Old Bay and drawn butter glistening my lip—I proudly announced to her that I’d mastered the art of crawfish eating.

At this same friendly, delicious bar, I fell in love with oysters. I ate them the way, I realize now, they should always be eaten—unpretentiously, ordered at the bar by the dozen and served on a styrofoam plate with a few wedge of lemon and a bit of cocktail sauce. Little plump pillows, the oysters were transcendent. Briny, tasting of the shells they slept in. I’ve had oysters before, at fancy NYC restaurants paying an outrageous price per pop, but I enjoyed them ten-fold more in this small, dank North Carolina bar.

Finally, the tuna. Once the weather brightened, Jim and I didn’t want to do anything but be outside, and decided to start buying all our dinners at the local seafood market. We would show up at 5PM, as the boats were getting in, and spend some time on the docks watching the fishermen slice up their bounty, the pelicans chomping at the bit. Once inside, where though it was a small room full of fish, the only smell in our nostrils was that of the fresh, crisp, ocean. Nothing was fishy smelly. It was unlike any fish I’ve ever encountered and I knew we’d have to have tuna tartare.

It was fantastic. No, that’s not the right word. It was awe-some. It was hilariously, ridiculously good—we laughed the whole time we ate, unable to believe our plates. The only bad part was realizing that tuna tartare, my favorite dish to order at restaurants, would henceforth pale in comparison to the fresh, sea-scented tuna we had in the Outer Banks.

A Tuna Tartare Un-Recipe

This is an un-recipe because it’s really just a basic idea—something that you can go off of if you have no idea how to start upon tuna tartare. But really, it’s just a bouncing-off point, and you need to experiment and find the perfect taste for you.

  • 1 1/2 pound sashimi-grade tuna
  • 1 or 2 avocados, diced
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced white parts only
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh ginger
  • 1-2 teaspoons wasabi paste
  • pinch of sugar
  • juice of a lime

Slice tuna into strips against the grain and cut into dices. Combine tuna with avocado and scallions. In a separate bowl, combine rest of ingredients, mixing well. Taste and adjust. Taste with a piece of the tuna and if it’s to your liking, pour over tuna. Mix and serve with sesame crackers.

Intensely Bittersweet Chocolate Soufflés

Since Valentine’s Day is smack in the middle of the week, Jim and I decided to begin celebrating it early this year, by having a wonderful chocolate dessert on Saturday night. Silly as it seems, I was uneasy about making anything with bittersweet chocolate. You see, there’s nothing bittersweet about our relationship.

We are young twenty-somethings who have been living together for a little over a year-still feeling as if we are merely “playing house.” We live together easily, deciding, quite amiably, to decorate our apartment with beautiful photography, bookshelves, and maps–Jim agreed that I can display teacups on some shelves, I allowed for the maps. We’re in love and calmly happy together. Sweet, see, but never bitter.

So, I am a bit too superstitious (I blame it on my Italian blood) to make anything bittersweet for our Valentine’s Day dessert—not that I think cracks could form in our relationship over such a silly thing, Jimmy, but knock on wood, throw salt over your shoulder, etc.

The problem is that we don’t eat much milk chocolate anymore. Out of a screwed up sense of “healthy,” we decided that we could have chocolate daily—if it was very dark (80%)—since dark chocolate has all those antioxidants and stuff. We decided this over a year ago and since then our chocolate tastes have changed dramatically. It’s almost a bad thing—I’m not satisfied by M&Ms or Snickers bars anymore (maybe it’s not that bad of a thing) and we either have to spend a lot for boutique desserts or make them ourselves. I guess I could have gone out and bought a chocolate dessert that didn’t specifically tout being made with bittersweet chocolate—in that don’t ask, don’t tell sort of way—but not making your newly-madly-in-love with boyfriend a homemade dessert on your 2nd Valentine’s Day together would be blasphemy!

Thankfully, I came across Alice Medrich’s Intensely Bittersweet Chocolate Soufflés while scouring my cookbooks for a suitable dessert. I decided I needed a little poetic license this V-Day and here’s what I came up with: Since our relationship is not bittersweet, I will lend the metaphor to the word “intense” because who doesn’t want an intense relationship? (Sane people, probably) Furthermore, since “Intense” (minus the -ly) is the first word of the dessert, it obviously means that our year will be filled with intensity and we can safely forget anything about bittersweet since second words never matter in fortune-telling (I actually have no idea if that is true, but I think we can all agree I’m full of it anyhow).

It’s a good thing I was able to concoct this excuse because the chocolate soufflé were the perfect amount of chocolate bitterness and, for a soufflé—a dessert made with more egg whites than butter—they were extremely decadent. You can prepare the soufflés in advance, allowing you to simple pop them in the oven 15 minutes before you wish to eat them. They don’t rise much, but the flavor is spectacularly rich. The first batch I made had a texture closer to mousse than soufflé, but I baked the remaining ramekins for less time than given in the recipe (I have an electric oven which is usually hotter than I intend it to be) and they had the characteristic ooey-gooey insides. Jim fell in love with the little chocolate ramekins immediately, licking them clean. If I wasn’t a stable woman, I’d be jealous.

Intensely Bittersweet Chocolate Soufflés

serves 6//from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces 70 % bittersweet chocolate finely chopped
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup of milk
  • 3 large eggs, separated at room temperature
  • 1 egg white , at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Method

If you are baking the soufflés right away, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375 °F. Butter the ramekins and sprinkle with sugar.

Place the chocolate, butter, and milk in a large heatproof bowl in a large skillet of barely simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the water bath and whisk in the egg yolks. (Don’t worry if the mixture stiffens slightly or is less than perfectly smooth at this point.) Set aside.

In a medium, dry bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with a an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Gradually sprinkle in 1/3 cup of sugar and beat at high speed until the whites are stiff but not dry. Fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it ,then fold in the remaining egg whites.

Divide the mixture evenly among the prepared ramekins, filling each three-quarters full. (The soufflés can be prepared to this point, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bake directly from the refrigerator.)

Place the soufflés on a cookie sheet. Bake until they rise and crack on top and a wooden skewer plunged into the center emerges very moist and gooey (but the centers should not be completely liquid), 14 to 16 minutes, perhaps a minute or so longer if the soufflés have been refrigerated. (If you want the ooey-gooey middle, however, shorten the cooking time by a few minutes.)

When they are done, remove the soufflés from the oven, and serve immediately with a little powdered sugar sifted over the top, if you like.

Hoppin’ John Soup for Good Luck

I have to admit it, when I first heard that Hoppin’ John was eaten on New Year’s throughout the American South for good luck, I thought it was preposterous. Firstly, the idea that collard greens will bring you good fortune sounds about as senseless to me as owning a money tree plant, (though, come to think of it, that may be exactly the reason why I’ve never won the lotto!) Secondly, the dish is based on deception, black-eyed peas are actually beans, and while I like deception as much as the next guy, I don’t tend to associate it with good luck.

But, hey, I was born in Ohio, I’ve traveled to the South many times, and I’m not going to let some stuffy New-England sensibility ruin my new year’s good luck. Oh no. I did, however, switch from making the traditional Hoppin’ John dish of beans and rice (and ham hock) to a wonderfully comforting, meal-all-in-itself soup.

The taste of the soup is delightfully “South,” and for some reason the collard greens conjure up images of lily pads and murky lakes for summer swimming (translating, nonetheless, into a great taste!) I hardly ever cook with already-cooked ham, using it mostly for lunch sandwiches, but it is a perfect compliment for the salty beans and collards. The recipe I was adapting from called for two cans black-eyed peas, but because I could only find one at the supermarket, I substituted black beans for the second can, blasphemy aside. After trying it, however, I thought the black beans lent a lot of flavor to the soup and wouldn’t make it again without them.

Happy New Year (I keep on saying that, huh) and Good Luck!!

Hoppin’ John Soup

6-8 servings//adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 3/4 pound cooked ham (with rind), diced
  • 2 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 (15oz.) can black beans
  • 1 (15oz.) can black-eyed peas
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
  • 1 lb. collard greens, stems and ribs removed, chopped
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Method:

In large saucepan or soup-pot, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil about 5 minutes, until starting to soften. Add ham and sauté until a great aroma is released and the ham rind begins to brown a little, about 10 minutes. Add thyme, chicken stock, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add the black beans (smashing them with the back of your fork to mash them up first) and the black-eyed peas. Cook, over low heat, for about 30 minutes.

Add chopped collard greens, simmer until greens and peas are tender. Stir in vinegar and simmer 5-10 minutes. Serve hot. Leftovers will be even better.

$30.00 Baked Potatoes: Truffled Potatoes on a Bed of Sea Salt

Celebrating doesn’t have to include going out. Some of my favorite celebrations go on in my lil’ old apartment, with my boyfriend, my dog, and maybe a game of Scrabble. Celebration dinners, as well, don’t need to be had in fancy restaurants, where you leave satisfied, but with the urge to keep telling yourself, over and over again, that, yes, the food was worth all that money. And I doubt that even those ungodly amounts of money would get you a dish like this:

Two potatoes. Baked. Then the flesh is mashed. With truffles. Two. Truffles. Continue reading “$30.00 Baked Potatoes: Truffled Potatoes on a Bed of Sea Salt”