Tuesday, December 22, 2009

And ending the year with stars...

I'm ending this year's postings with gratitude. I've been blessed with another year of health, friends, family, and, of course, food. Wonderful food! And I'm grateful to each and every one of you who has read my blog, enjoyed it, and left comments for me. I love reading your blogs, and find inspiration in your photography, writing, and the enormous sensitivity of our food community when it comes to issues involved with the foods we eat. It reminds me of a quote I read recently of Wendell Berry, who said "Eaters must understand how we eat determines how the world is used."

I wish each and every one of you a joyous, healthy, holiday season, and leave you with a simple, but simply delicious recipe for a mouth-watering cookie, posted originally on the blog Smitten Kitchen. This was the third cookie I brought to the cookie exchange, and one I could have eaten till I was positively round.

Toasted Coconut Shortbread
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2004

The original recipe was double this size, yielding six dozen cookies. I halved it.

1/2 cup (about 1.5 ounces) unsweetened shredded coconut*
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature**
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt (Updated: for unsweetened coconut, the smaller amount; sweetened, the larger amount)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread coconut on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until coconut is light golden, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Cool completely, then grind in a coffee grinder, food processor or blender until coarsely ground.

Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl until well blended. Mix in salt and vanilla. Beat in flour in 2 additions. Stir in toasted coconut. Gather dough together, flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic. Chill at least 1 hour. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Keep chilled. Soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out dough disk on lightly floured work surface to scant 1/4-inch thickness. Using 1 3/4- to 2-inch-diameter cookie cutters, cut dough into rounds. Transfer cookies to prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Gather dough scraps and reroll; cut out additional cookies.

Bake cookies until light golden, about 20 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool completely. (Can be made ahead. Store airtight at room temperature up to 1 week.)

One final note: I was informed that my copying of a recipe from The Luna Cafe (my last post) constituted a violation of copyright laws. I am not a lawyer, I'm a food blogger who made the mistake of thinking that it was OK to copy a recipe if you didn't claim it was your own, you gave the author credit as well as a link back to their blog. As I've never had any objections to this practice before, I was surprised to learn that not everyone approves of this practice. But since it's not my intention to harm anyone's private property, I have removed the recipe from my last post. I have left the link to The Luna Cafe's post with the recipe for what I called "Mole Moons", so if any of you wish to find that recipe, you can click on the link.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Polka Dots and Moonbeams

OK, I have to confess something. I made a confession last week, and now I have to confess that my confession wasn't accurate. (Don't you just hate it when even your confessions aren't entirely true?) I said that I don't often eat desserts, and that part is true. What I left out, was that when I find something I like in the dessert world, I just don't stop eating them. And at this time of the year....well, it's hard to get through a day without some kind of sweet staring at you, singing it's sweet little song. And like a siren, it lures you in. So the walnut cake I found so irresistible last week was gobbled up quickly and has become an insistent memory.

And then came this past Sunday's cookie exchange. I had attended it last year and found that the camaraderie was at least as good as the cookies. This year's invitation set something off in me that I still don't understand. Perhaps it was fueled by the walnut cake. Perhaps the taste of a spectacular dessert made me lust after more. I don't know. All I know is that instead of making the requisite one kind of cookie, I was whisked off to cookie nirvana, and the next thing I knew, I was up to my elbows in flour and butter, concocting not one, but three different kinds of cookies. (Is there a "cookies anonymous" out there?)

Since the blogosphere is filled with spectacular bakers, I figured I wouldn't have any trouble finding recipes that sounded interesting and different. I was right. I turned first to one of my favorite bakers, Patricia over at Technicolor Kitchen. Not only does she bake divine looking sweets of all kinds, she also photographs them beautifully. And she posts about them in both Portuguese and English! Anyway, I was treated to a mouth-watering photograph of her spiced sables with eggnog glaze. Cookie #1.

I have absolutely no idea how I came across The Luna Cafe, but I am forever grateful for the wonders of the internet for leading me to this site. On it I found the recipe for the most amazing cookie I've ever tasted. Seriously. You can stop reading the rest of this and just jump to the recipe. I'll understand. When it was my turn to explain to the crowd what I had made for the cookie exchange, I didn't know what to expect when I told people that I had made a chocolate cookie that had ancho chili powder and cayenne. All I can say is that I should have at least doubled the recipe. One woman called it a mole cookie. Since everyone's recipe for mole is different, it's possible. But I do love the sound of "Mole Moons", don't you?

Enough said. You've been reading enough already. Time to get down to the baking. I'll post the recipe for the last of the cookies next week.Spiced Sable Rounds With Eggnog Glaze

Cookie Dough:

1 ¼ cups unsalted butter, cold and coarsely chopped
1 cup + 1 ½ tablespoons caster sugar
2 eggs
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground allspice
4 cups + 4 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon dark rum - I used white

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
2 cups + 2 ½ tablespoons icing sugar, sifted
freshly ground nutmeg, for scattering

Beat butter and sugar in an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to combine. Add lemon zest, spices, flour and baking powder and mix until just combined. Divide dough in four equal parts and form each one into a log that is a little more than 3.5cm (1 ½ in) thick. Wrap well in baking paper and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350; line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
Unwrap one of the dough logs (keep the others in the fridge) and slice it into 6mm (¼-in) rounds. Place onto prepared baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes or until just golden – mine needed 15 minutes for staying in the fridge for 24 hours.
Repeat with the remaining logs.
Make the glaze: whisk egg, brandy, rum and vanilla paste (if using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds with the back of a knife and add to the bowl) in an electric mixer for 5 minutes or until pale and fluffy. Add the sugar and whisk until thick and pale.
Spread icing over warm cookies then scatter with a little nutmeg and cool on a wire rack. Let glaze set completely before storing the cookies.
Cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 90 – I halved the recipe and got 48

Mole Moons

In order to find this recipe, you will have to click on the link above for The Luna Cafe. The Kitchen Notes below are my own, and have not been copied from any other source.

Kitchen Notes:
First of all, unless you plan on using the parts you cut out to make your moons less than full, don't count on there being anywhere near 6 dozen cookies. Definitely double this recipe. And forget about them lasting for weeks. They'll be eaten long before then. Also, I thought I would be making some orange flavored glaze to decorate these with. I had no time, so I used the eggnog glaze from the other cookies. Worked like a charm!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Walnut Cake

I confess I don't often eat desserts. It's not that I don't love them - I do. But if the meal is good - and it often is - I often don't have much interest in eating more at the end of it. I look at all those photos you guys post showing spectacular desserts and I drool at the sight of them. But the same problem arises each and every time I'm done with a meal - I'm full! Boring, I know, but what can I do?

Now, the obvious solution would be to wait a bit, let the meal settle, and then go back for dessert. It works, and I've occasionally done that. Thanksgiving is the perfect example. Sitting around the table with 13 family members, all talking and laughing and sharing stories - it's easy to take time eating the meal, which many of us helped to make. It's one of the reasons I love this holiday. I get together with my family, whom I love, and it's about being together and sharing a meal - not about shopping for gifts.

At the end of that meal, we were treated to the traditional pumpkin pies, which my eldest brother has perfected. This year he experimented with 2 different crusts, both of which were perfect.

And then came my sister's walnut cake.

When I looked at it, I thought it might be somewhat dry. WRONG! It was perfect. I mean perfect as in this would be the cake to bring to any gathering and enjoy watching people's faces as they took their first bite. And then their second slice. And then watch them eying that last slice, debating whether or not to be polite and let someone else have it, or bold enough to reach for it themselves, halfheartedly offering to share. My sister, who has mastered the art of baking as well as anyone I've met, always offers an alternative to pumpkin pie for those who aren't partial to it. Every year it's terrific. This year it was an understated miracle.
I'm not certain where she got the recipe, but here it is as she sent it to me:

Serves 6-8
1 stick of unsalted butter
3C walnuts
1C sugar
5 eggs, room temp.
1/2 C flour
2 Tbls. Kirsch (I used 1 Tbls. Poire William)
xx sugar
350 degrees
Use 2 tea. of the butter to grease a 9" round baking pan. Line bottom with parchment paper. Use 1 tea. of the butter to grease the paper.
Put walnuts on baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes til they darken slightly. Cool. Grind in processor to fine powder. In a large bowl, beat remaining butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add nuts, flour, and kirsch. Mix well and pour into prepared pan. Bake approximately 30 minutes, depending upon oven. When cool, dust with xx sugar.
Sauteed Pears:
2 Tbls. unsalted butter
6 small or 4 large Bosc pears, cored, peeled, and cut into 1/4" dice
2 Tbls. brown sugar
3/4 tea. ground cinnamon
1 tea. ground nutmeg
2 Tbls. fresh lemon juice
In a saute pan or skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat and cook the pears, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or just until softened. Sprinkle with the sugar. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice and mix well. Cover to keep warm.
1C heavy cream
1Tbls. sugar
1 tea. ground cinnamon
Using an electric mixer set on medium-high speed, whip the cream and sugar until the cream is thick but not dry. Add the cinnamon and continue whipping until the cream is the desired consistency. Serve the cake topped with the pears and the cream.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving in East Hampton

I love East Hampton in the winter. The history of this place is bathed in pale light, and bare trees etch the sky in the afternoon...
Main street is devoid of tourists.And Louse Point - an awful name for a beautiful place - harbors no hoards of summer sunbathers. At this time of the year, East Hampton gives the brief illusion that it is what it once was - a haven for artists and writers looking for some space in which to paint large canvasses and write books. The Hamptons, in those days, were filled with fishermen and farmers who were willing to be good neighbors and trade food for paintings in some cases. A local family out there came into a couple of Jackson Pollack's that way before anyone had ever heard of him. It's a place where you can still find an independent book seller on Main Street, with creaky wooden floors and people who smile at you and say hello.It's where I purchased "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver - a book which had been on my "list" for too long, and which I started reading on the plane home. I may be the last person in the food blogosphere to read this book, but if by any chance you happen to have it on your list as well and haven't gotten around to reading it - it's time. She writes about a year in which her family lives by the locavore's credo. Her arguments in favor of S.O.L.E. food (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) are cogent and well researched. It's something I posted about here, when I wrote about Amaltheia Dairy's organic goat farm.

I must confess that I feel something close to giddiness when I see the many streams that are currently feeding the local food movement. As a health care practitioner, I couldn't be more pleased, and I say "It's about time!" The high cost of cheap food is nothing short of insanity, and I don't believe that we are a nation so bereft of ingenuity and insight that we cannot come up with a better plan. Fortunately, the word has been getting out - in books, movies, magazine articles, as well as on TV shows and radio programs. If Congress cannot figure out how to craft a reasonable bill addressing health care (is anyone surprised?), then your local farmers can. We can start with the simple fact that what you put into your body might - just might - have something to do with what you get out of it. Think about putting 20 octane gas in your car. Would you do it? Then look around you at all the people who have been sold the idea that it's OK to put the equivalent of 20 octane food into their bodies. It gives me the shudders.

But back to East Hampton.......
It's a locavore's definition of heaven. The roadside markets are filled with the produce of the season, including pumpkins as far as the eye can see, giant cauliflower.......even purple ones.....
And even bigger turnips!
And my sister, who lives in East Hampton year round, wouldn't consider buying her food from a regular grocery store until the dead of winter, when the farm stands have shut down. So our Thanksgiving feast consisted of a turkey from a local farm, roasted brussel sprouts, carrots and purple cauliflower, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and white potatoes from the farm stand, and baked goods made with eggs from a local farm.

I love my sister.

And when I get her recipe for the walnut cake she made, I will post about it. (I photographed it with my cell phone. Don't expect miracles!)

Did you get to eat any food for Thanksgiving which was produced locally?