Monday, May 26, 2008

Cranberry Pockets

Cranberry Pockets

Another gem from Cookies for Christmas by Jennifer Darling. By the time Christmas comes around, I'll have made every cookie in this book!

As soon as I saw port in the ingredient list, I waited anxiously for a grown-up event as excuse to make these. Now there's a fun ingredient to dab your fingers into! And I happened to have some "cooking" port, designated for a lamb recipe I still haven't tried.

These cookies required a lot of steps. First, the filling. The recipe calls for dried cranberries, and if I'd had more time to experiment with consistency, I'd have tried fresh cranberries. It seemed like a small amount of filling, but the quantity came out just right. The cranberries, port and sugar actually made more a more subtle filling than I expected. It could have been tarter, but that's really being picky.

The dough was easy enough to make and roll out. I don't know if I'm violating any cookie-rolling statutes, but I chill my dough in a fat disk shape instead of a ball. It's so much easier to roll out that way, and it chills faster. I've also started rolling it on a piece of floured wax paper, using the same plastic wrap I chilled it in on top, to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. This works really well to keep pieces of dough from getting pulled up on the rolling pin, and spares me frequent flouring. I don't think this negatively affects the dough.

Incredibly, I had a 3" cookie cutter -- really, a biscuit cutter. That $2.95 item will justify at least $500 worth of future "you neeeever know when you might need this!" purchases.

Cutting them out, filling and folding -- no problem. As the recipe suggested, I used a fork to seal and flute the edges. More work than drop cookies for sure, but this was so much fun. I'm easily amused when it comes to cookies.

Then, the fun part -- the icing. The recipe calls for "port glaze" and icing, even though the port glaze is also icing of drizzling consistency. It's just confectioner's sugar moistened with port -- mm! Inexplicably, the recipe suggests coloring it, but the port will give it color anyway. I made just port icing, put it in a plastic zipper bag, snipped off a tiny corner, and drizzled away. This is a messy process; the icing always comes out the top of the bag and gets all over your hands. Mm, too bad.

If I had it to do over, and I will, I'd try to make the dough thinner, and put more filling in. Handling 1/8" thick circles of dough is outside my expertise right now, but I sure am going to enjoy learning how. I can't wait for Christmas!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Broccolini and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Broccolini and Balsamic Vinaigrette
My husband and I went out to a nice restaurant (yes, it does happen from time to time) a few weeks back, and a dish he ordered included broccolini. He'd never heard of it before, and I knowingly explained it was a variety of broccoli. Or immature broccoli. Or is it overgrown broccoli? OK, OK, so I don't really know either. Of course nowadays, we're all one Google away from knowing too.

But I did remember having seen my unknowing mentor, Ina Garten, make a sophisticated broccolini dish. Some judicious searching on Food Network's web site turned up this recipe.

Broccolini itself is fairly bitter, but this straightforward balsamic vinaigrette is strong enough to overcome that. It really could be used as a salad dressing too, though cautiously. I thought it was a great way to dress up this vegetable, which is half flowers and half dark leafy greens -- the holy grail of nutrition.

I didn't dream of giving this to my sons, who are quite happy with ordinary buttered broccoli, and what mom is going to mess with that? My husband isn't big on vinaigrettes, and found the broccolini itself hard to chew.

Naturally, I liked it, and don't mind using a knife to cut the tougher stems, but I don't count for squat around here. So this will get added to my fast-filling shelf of recipes to save for other grownups!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Leek, Potato & Gruyère Frittata

Leek, Potato & Gruyère Frittata

I caught this recipe in a Williams-Sonoma catalog, included as a sidebar to sell their special frittata pans. I'm not universally opposed to dish-specific cookware -- I do have a waffle iron -- but $135 and a lot of storage I don't have, for a dish I've made with plain old regular general-purpose pans, seemed excessive. Not to mention that I need to scale the frittatas based on my audience -- sometimes a 10" pan isn't enough. Besides, I like the exercise of hauling my 500-lb 12" Le Creuset pan off a shelf.

The day I saw this recipe, I happened to hear a quiz on the radio, asking about a town in Switzerland that is the origin of a cheese that had won some world award. The answer was Gruyere. So I had Gruyere on the mind, and that was enough to cut out the recipe and put the ingredients on my grocery list.

But what the heck is Gruyere cheese?

Thankfully, there is a huge cheese counter at Whole Foods, with very patient cheese connoisseurs (what is the word for that?). The other ingredients were readily available there too -- this is a Whole Foods sort of recipe. TJ's doesn't carry leeks.

I've made this twice now, once faithful to the original recipe, and once with sliced zucchini instead of red potato. I'm no fan of morning potatoes, but I'll be darned if I didn't prefer the red-potato version. My husband, who likes potatoes for breakfast, didn't like the red potato version. Sigh.

It cooked just fine using my Joy of Cooking frittata "technique," if you can call it that, by setting the bottom on the stovetop, and finishing the top in the broiler.

This is a fabulous frittata recipe, and easily adaptable. My husband didn't like it as much as my original Zucchini frittata, but that was because of the absence of pancetta and basil, easily fixable. This base recipe makes for a frittata that holds together better, is more substantial and cooks more evenly -- perhaps from the heavy cream. Or the Gruyere cheese.

I'm still a sunny-side-up sorta gal, but this is a nice variation on scrambled eggs that I like and that everyone else in my family will eat too. It's-a-latta-frittata!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Orange Pumpkin Cookies

Orange Pumpkin Cookies

The truth is, this blog is a farce. It's a false front, pretending to display an emerging interest in food in general, when in fact, my one true calling is cookies. The other stuff is just padding to disguise it. My eating is exactly the same -- a smokescreen to give an appearance of balance when really, I could live on cookies. OK, with a little cheesecake thrown in there too (protein, you know).

And I could curl up and go to sleep with this cookie book every night too: Cookies for Christmas, by Jennifer Darling. It's just one winner after another. Although in this one, the cookie is only a runner-up: the frosting takes the cake. Or so to speak.

I love all things pumpkin. I shiver with excitement as October approaches, when harvest colors, nutmeg and squash varieties reign. So despite a main ingredient being out of season, I had to make these cookies. I wear white after Labor Day too.

One must maintain a certain level of denial when one puts shortening in anything. What is that stuff? Shouldn't I be using it for hand moisturizer? Ick! I don't dare look at the label. But it does make for a nice texture.

Not surprisingly, the cookie flavor itself doesn't exactly knock your socks off; it's mild, but with a cakey texture. I wonder what a little ginger would do...?

The orange-butter frosting on the other hand...heaven. The garnish was the real kicker. I used a zester to get strips of orange peel, laid it on a plate and sprinkled sugar all over them. It was a messy and slow job frosting and garnishing all the cookies, but I can think of few ways I'd rather spend time.

In other recipes, I've had trouble blending in fresh zest with an electric mixer, as the beaters collect all the zest. A friend suggested putting the zest in a food processor first and mixing it with sugar, so it'd spread out better. Great idea! Bad execution. All I got was a sugary lump of orange. As it turns out, I didn't need an electric mixer for this particular recipe anyway, as long as the butter and shortening are room-temperature, and I was basically able to blend my sugary lump with a mixing spoon.

(By the way, I always get my eggs and any other refrigerated ingredients out ahead of time now. I can't say it makes any difference, but I sure feel like I'm baking hi-class, 'cause I'm in the know about room-temperature ingredients. However, this practice does alert my children to impending cookie-making projects.)

The cookie itself stands on its own, but then, I'm not very discriminating when it comes to cookies and anything pumpkin. But the frosting makes it a treat, and the zing of the sugared orange zest takes it to a new level. They're attractive and earthy and fun and I just love them.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Coffee Crisps

Coffee Crisps

This cookie recipe comes from the book Cookies for Christmas, by Jennifer Darling, an out-of-print book last published in 1999, so it falls just under my threshhold for copyright violation....or just over my threshhold for rationalization.

Because it would be a crime to the cookie world not to share this recipe, or this book. A foodie friend brought another cookie from this book to a cookie exchange, and they were so amazing that I bought a used copy via Amazon. I love books like this, with clear instructions, beautiful photographs, helpful sidebars, and nicely organized.

For no particular reason, I was in the mood to make a grownup cookie. The simplicity of the recipe, with the grownup flavor of coffee, and the charming decoration suggestion, made this irresistable.

Wow. I loved these. Light, flavorful, easy to make, and despite "crisp" in the title, rather chewy. I had all sorts of fun practicing the technique of putting icing into a plastic bag, snipping the corner and squirting away. The photo in the book showed cookies with perfectly even zigzags (and white icing, impossible given the coffee in the icing recipe), but not only don't I have surgeon's control, what fun is that anyway? My favorite cookies were the ones with the random squiggles all over them anyway.

Topped off with coffee dust (I used a rolling pin to crush coffee granules), these cookies presented beautifully and were really fun to make. And very grownup.