Archive for December, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies

It’s New Year’s Eve. I’m in New Orleans. There’s a huge shindig down in Jackson Square, at least two masquerade balls, and I have no doubt that Bourbon Street is in full swing. Closer to home, I hear fireworks, and at least one of the bars in walking distance is having some kind of event.

Also a drive-through daiquiri place, because apparently we're classy like that around here.

Of course there’s more than one bar within walking distance of my apartment. There’s also a drive-through daiquiri place up the street, just in case you need a daiquiri while driving, I guess.

This city takes its holidays seriously, enough that even I feel like I might be missing out on something by staying in tonight. I mean, a masquerade? How do you pass that up? Especially given that I own a lovely venetian mask which I never have occasion to wear. But honestly, it’s a relief. There’s no need to caffeinate to keep energy up until midnight, no crowd of party-goers to shout over. And if I’d gone to a masked ball, I’d have missed out on and evening lounging on the couch in purple argyle socks, watching Blade Runner and eating seared duck and couscous.

Ma

I concede that a formal masked ball may well serve duck, but is likely to frown on the purple socks.

On an unrelated note, I made chocolate chip cookies during the insane holiday baking spree a couple of weeks ago. I never make chocolate chip cookies. Really. This is the second time since high school that it’s happened. But after all this time, I still remember exactly how it’s done.

Apparently making these cookies is like riding a bike. Even after almost ten years, muscle memory just kicks in.

Apparently making these cookies is like riding a bike. Even after almost ten years, muscle memory just kicks in.

Ingredients (makes 2 dozen)

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16 T (2 sticks) butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 T vanilla extract

2  eggs

2 1/4 cups flour

1 1/2 t baking soda

1 1/2 t salt

1/2 t nutmeg

3 chocolate bars, preferably all different

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cream butter in a mixer. Add sugars and continue to mix until thoroughly combined.

Forgot to take a picture with the sugar. oops.

Forgot to take a picture with the sugar. oops.

Add eggs and vanilla and mix just to combine.

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Add flour, salt, baking soda, and nutmeg, and mix again to combine.

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Chop the chocolate bars. The size of the chunks is really up to you. I prefer them about 1 cm².

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Add the chopped chocolate to the batter. . .

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. . .and fold it in.

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Then just drop the batter in about 1 1/2 tablespoon blobs onto parchment lined cookie sheets. I don’t measure. I just estimate blobs to approximately the size of a golf ball.

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Bake at 375°F for 10-12 minutes. As soon as they come out of the oven, add a small pinch of kosher salt to the whole batch. It sounds crazy, I know, but just go with it. Salt is delicious.

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These ones spread a bit too much. That’s okay. Ugly cookies are my specialty.

If you’re baking cookies to ship halfway across the country, do not attempt to get them bagged and shipped five minutes after they come out of the oven, even if the post office is closing in twenty minutes. You will get chocolate everywhere.

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Don’t tell the recipient of your cookies if you used a nonstandard flavor of chocolate bar, either. It’s amusing to hear about an office arguing over whether the hint of flavor in the cookies is orange or coffee. It was coffee, incidentally. Coffee goes with nutmeg. If I were using orange peel or orange oil, I’d swap the nutmeg with anise and then never ever share the cookies because that combination is amazing.

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Happy new year!

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Lemon Cookies

Last week I made cookies.

I don’t mean I made a batch of cookies last week, or two, or even three. I mean that last week, aside from the hours spent at the local food bank, all I did was bake cookies. Cookies to give to friends here, cookies for Mr. Blackbird’s lab, cookies to ship across the country. And still I’m not done. I have about three batches to send to Texas after Christmas, a few to bake today to bring to Florida, and I really should bake a batch for the lovely friend who’s feeding the cats while we’re gone.

If I’ve ever said that there’s no such thing as too many cookies, I take it back. I’m not going to want to see another cookie until after Passover. Or at least tomorrow when I get bored and hungry during the twelve-hour drive home.

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These cookies are adapted from Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri, which is bizarre for several reasons. First of all, I don’t own this cookbook. I don’t own any specifically healthy cookbooks. Secondly, long ago I had a copy of Cookies Unlimited by the same author, and I swear not a single recipe that I tried from that book came out well. But a year or so ago, a friend on a low-cholesterol diet asked if I could make healthy lemon cookies. I said no (cookies aren’t healthy, guys) but that I would try to find a recipe that wasn’t quite as guilt-inducing as most. This one has half the butter of your average cookie recipe, and uses only the white of the egg.

Don’t let that scare you off, though. These cookies are amazing. They’re moderately lemony, about two steps above lemon pound cake but still well below lemon bars. If you want to kick up the lemon flavor, a simple glaze of lemon juice, cream cheese, and powdered sugar would go nicely, or you could just brush the tops with a little lemon juice when they come out of the oven. Their texture is spongy enough to absorb it.

Best of all, they put an assertive citrus flavor (the most virtuous of all dessert flavors) into a cookie form. This means that I could ship them to my lemon-addicted friend in Dallas without the hassle of shipping lemon bars or lime pie or any other nonsense that requires chilling.

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Ingredients (makes about 24 cookies)

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4 T unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg white

1/4 cup lemon juice

zest of one lemon (optional)

1 1/3 cups  flour

1/2 t baking powder

1/4 t salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cream the butter and sugar together.

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Add the egg white, lemon juice, and zest if using and mix well.

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Sift in the flour, baking powder, and salt.

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Fold the batter just until it comes together.

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Drop batter in scant tablespoons onto parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes. The cookies will be very pale, especially if you ran out of fresh lemons before baking and therefore didn’t use any lemon zest.

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Chicken Liver Pate

So, odds are if you’re reading this you have at least one holiday party or New Year’s Eve party to go to. If you’re lucky, this means small, intimate dinner parties with family or friends, the kind where everyone brings a dessert or a bottle of something in spite of the host’s protests that there’s already too much food. It’s the end of the year, and we’re all breaking out recipes that we’d never make without the holiday excuse, because they’re fancy or time consuming or expensive to make.

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Pâté is neither time-consuming nor expensive, but jaws will drop every single time you tell anyone you made it at home. It can be added unobtrusively to the appetizers present at most parties, or you can keep it to yourself and use it to round out a simple lunch of a cheese plate and salad.

Ingredients (makes about 3 cups, which is more than anyone needs)

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about 1 1/4 pounds chicken livers

2 T butter

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup wine or brandy

1/4 cup whipping cream

2 T apricot jam

1/2 t salt

1/4 t white pepper

mustard seeds to taste

Directions

Melt butter over medium-high heat.

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Mince or press garlic and cook until translucent.

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Add the chicken livers. Cook briefly–not more than 2-3 minutes per side.

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You still want to see some pink when you chop the livers with your spatula.

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Scoop the livers into the bowl of a food processor or blender.

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Clean your pan and add the wine or brandy to it.

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Bring to a boil and reduce the liquid by about 1/2. It is okay to estimate this.

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Add the reduced wine, whipping cream, salt, spices, and jam to the bowl of the food processor.

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Puree until smooth and creamy. This takes about 1 minute.

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Scoop into ramekins or old mustard jars or whatever dish you plan to serve it out of.

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It needs to chill before serving. Once it is cool, pour enough clarified butter to cover the surface over the top and return to the refrigerator. This serves the dual purpose of adding delicious fat and keeping the pâté from drying or discoloring.

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Serve with salad, crackers, crudités, fruit, or a cheese plate.

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Watch everyone marvel at your culinary genius, even though you and I both know it wasn’t hard at all.

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Not Fish and Chips

On the rare occasion that I ordered fish in Dallas, it was always at a pub, and it was always fish and chips. Everything is delicious deep-fried and served with fried potatoes, and since I was eating fish at most once or twice a year there, it really didn’t feel like an overindulgence to have fish in its most unhealthy form when I did decide to be in a fish mood.

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I should probably add that being in the mood for fish only ever happened in pubs (particularly one pub) for a reason. I have a psychological block against eating seafood when I am nowhere near the sea. I know the fish is safe, that it’s transported frozen and often quickly but I just can’t do it.

After four or five shots of whiskey, I can happily store all thoughts of seafood safety elsewhere. And after four or five shots of whiskey, any pretensions to a healthy dinner plan have long since scurried off leaving only a choice between a reuben sandwich (delightful, except that it always comes with too much dressing, and no amount of explaining the proper dressing/sandwich ratio or wheedling to leave it on the side will sway the bartender one whit) and a plate of fish and chips with a mild, earthy curry sauce to dip them in.

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Here, I am not afraid to eat the fish. Even the fish that originated in the Honduras and therefore, one can safely assume, has undergone just as much transport and freezing and potential issues as any trout sold in Texas. Like I said, it was a psychological block, not a sensible one. So here, we eat fish, often tilapia, often Honduran, about twice a week. Fish and chips are lovely for tipsy bar nights (of which I have enjoyed none since the move) but rubbish for reasonable weeknights on days when I want to feel a net benefit from my cardio routine. But fish and potato remains a sound and worthy combination, and crisp textures will win in any kitchen, any time. What is a cook to do?

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Luckily, I have a cast iron skillet. It turns out that crispy baked potato and fish are just as tasty as fried ones. Probably tastier, in fact, because enjoying them in my own dining room obviates the need to breathe in all that not-so-lovely bar smoke while eating.

Ingredients (serves 2)

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1/2 lb white fish fillets

1 largish baking potato

1-2 T olive oil

1 lemon

2 cloves garlic

1/2 t lemongrass

1/2 t salt

white pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat the oven to 400°F. Combine lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic in an 11-inch cast-iron skillet (or other large, heavy metal pan).

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Cut the potato into about 1/8 inch slices. You could use a mandoline. I hated my mandoline, so I gave it to a friend back in Dallas. A sharp knife does the job nicely.

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Arrange the slices in concentric rings in the skillet. Look how pretty!

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Brush the tops of the potatoes with just a touch of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, white pepper, and lemongrass.

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Bake for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender but not yet crisp or brown. Place the fish on top of the potatoes and return the skillet to the 400-degree oven for another 10 minutes.

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Serve with steamed asparagus or something else lovely and green.

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I always intend to zest the lemon over the fish just before baking, but it never seems to happen. Nevertheless, this is a mild, lemony, healthy way to enjoy fish.

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