Saturday, December 22, 2007

But It Has So Many Other Uses

(Yes, I let this blog be slightly more personal than the main law blog, but limitedly, and so don't expect too much)

My beloved roommate, whom I love very much, and I switched presents on Friday before I flew home to visit my parents. She said "This is for you...and The Dude!" Now, that is very nice of her to think of The Dude. Of course, terrifying images of what this present could be flashed through my head, until I just opened it. It turned out to be....

A breakfast tray.

"So that you can bring The Dude breakfast in bed!"

Hmm. I Blame The Patriarchy.

Not that the The Dude, who is awesome and wonderful and happy-Belle making, doesn't deserve such, uh, servitude. He is very awesome, and I am not exactly contrarian with my "I am a feminist who cooks and bakes" schtick. It is often the case that I make dinners, picnic lunches, and all sorts of desserts for us, although I think he is the better cook, as he proved when he brought me a homemade feast during finals.

And I expect that it's so we can have it together, although crumbs on 400 count sheets from Crate and Barrel are not ideal. He laughed at the idea of me serving him breakfast in bed, which is the right response, even if I ever decide to do it. Which, I highly doubt I will. He may be awesome, and I may be a domestic diva, but I am entirely too full of sardonic irony and too much of a sarcastic bitch to do this.

I'm still very excited about my new tray table though. I can serve tea and biscotti at my all-girl tea parties! I can bring out a lot of stuff from the kitchen at once during dinner parties! This is a really great present. The Roomie didn't think of all these other applications, but they do exist.

Including my favorite:

Now, this would really get me going in the morning.

Recipe on Blondies to come on Monday, when I let the children get their grubby little hands into the dough to sprinkle the chocolate pieces.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Best Weekend EVER

For those who do not (yet) ski, hiking 8 miles in the snow, sledding and going up the ski lift to catch the view from the observation deck is just as fun. At least to a girl raised in Southern California, where even 60 degrees feels brisk, and winter sports were disfavored because there is never winter.

To my credit, I resisted the impulse (which came very often) to say "wow, this is just like in the movies!"
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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cookies Are Like Kisses

Things are winding down, at least for Phase I of My Life Is Hell Twice A Year, Or Once A Term. I took a writing break to bake cookies to bring along for this weekend's trip to Cold Place In The Mountains. Road trips make me hungry, as does cold air and elevation. Hence, the picture of them in a "dude, that's ghetto" tupperware. For prettier, food pornier pictures, go here and here.

My beloved Amber beat me to it, but I have been dying to make Homemade Oreos ever since I saw the recipe on Smitten Kitchen. They are the most wonderful things I have ever eaten. As soon as I took a bite, I immediately hated everything I had ever eaten prior to the Cookie of Awesomeness. It was as if a choir of angels had burst into song in my mouth. This must be what heaven tastes like, if heaven existed and you could dunk it into milk (or coffee) and bite, chew, swallow and digest it. They are wayyyy better than the chocolate mascarpone cookies I had at Breadlines in D.C. (18th and Penn), and that is saying something.

If bundt cakes are like hugs, cookies are like kisses, and these are like the ultimate makeout session of cookiedom. I hope that these cookies get me some kisses, but they are so good that really, kisses are almost unnecessary. Almost.

Homemade Oreos (Chocolate Mascarpone Cookies)

For the chocolate wafers:
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa (yes, this matters, I got mine at Peets)
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 to 1½ cups sugar
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg

For the filling:
¼ cup sugar
8 oz Mascarpone cheese

1. Set two racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375 degrees.

2. In a food processor, or bowl of an electric mixer, thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, or on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough comes together in a mass.

3. Take rounded tablespoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately 2 inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating once for even baking. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.

4. To make the filling, cream the mascarpone with the sugar with an electric beater until fluffy and mixed.

5. To assemble the cookies, spread the mascarpone cream evenly onto a cookie with a butter or pate knife. Sandwich together. Refrigerate to firm up and "sticken" the cream.

Keep refrigerated, although you probably won't die if you leave the cookies out for a while. But, this is a cautious food blog.

Okay, so for once Smitten Kitchen lets me down. These cookies are so sweet I feel like my teeth are wincing. Next time I will take out the 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, which is so unnecessary when you have 2/3 cups of brown sugar already. 1 1/4 cups of flour to 0.91 cups sugar doesn't sound like much (considering that most recipes call for equal amounts of sugar to flour), but these seem way too sweet for me. I'm bringing them anyway--maybe other people like sweet cookies.

Always, always distrust a recipe that proclaims that these cookies are so good that eating them would make everyone so happy that world peace would ensue:

When Dorie Greenspan included Pierre Hermé’s recipe for to-die-for chocolate cookies in her Paris Sweets cookbook, she called them Korova Cookies (Sablés Korova), after the restaurant off the Champs-Élysées for which Pierre Hermé created these cookies, not the milk bar in A Clockwork Orange. In her most recent book, she calls them World Peace Cookies, as her neighbor became convinced that a daily dose of these cookies was all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness.

That is some claim for a cookie to make! Anyway, such a schmaltzy, maudlin name guarantees that the cookie is too sweet, metaphorically and literally. An ironic shame; Dorie Greenspan is such a good bakebook writer, the French generally don't like things too sweet, and I cannot imagine eating these cookies every day (the other cookies I've made, certainly).

Anyway, the recipe, with the warning that you should take out the 1/4 cup granulated sugar, or leave it in if you are inclined to the saccharine:

World Peace/Korova Cookies

Paris Sweets, Dorie Greenspan

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I recommend Scharffenberger or Dagoba)

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar

¼ cup sugar

½ teaspoon fleur de sel or ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous ¾ cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

GETTING READY TO BAKE: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Thoughts On Cookbooks

I am shamelessly sharing this good advice with everyone. A friend of Belle writes to say:

If Julia Child's Mastering is like a very good undergrad course in French cooking, then Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of Southwest France is a wonderful graduate education in a particular region. For a simpler and easier approach to French cooking at home, why not try Anthony Bourdain's cookbook or one of Julie Child's simpler cookbooks? I've generally had good luck with recipes from the Bourdain cookbook, especially the onion soup recipe.

Fergus Henderson's two cookbooks are wonderful to read and have some interesting recipes, especially if you like offal. I roasted a suckling pig this weekend, taking some suggestions from recipes in Child's and Henderson's cookbooks, and I was quite pleased with the result.

For other baking cookbooks, have you ever seen any Francois Payard or
Pierre Herme' cookbooks? Herme's recipe for chocolate macarons is definitely worth trying.

For Cajun and Creole cooking, books by Paul Prudhomme and John Folse are worth a look. I've found both of them to be helpful, even in law classes: my only book award came about because of a seminar paper in which I set the Hart/Fuller debate in the context of gumbo.

I don't find Ina Garten's cookbooks to be worth the price, especially since you can often find her recipes on line. They make nice coffee table books and the recipes aren't bad, but there are so many more interesting books out on the market.

Thank you, Friend of Belle!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Building a Cook's Library

I don't have enough "real" cookbooks besides the Better Homes and Garden one, which sucks because it's full of bland, uninspiring recipes that are a little too 1950s casseroley for me.

But you do need classic, "bible" type cookbooks. I only have thin, not-as-useful ones that I got as gifts, like a tapas cookbook, an Asian vegetables cookbook, a "best-ever chicken" cookbook and some random international cookbook. I also have two dessert bibles (Great Desserts From Great Chefs; Dessert Circus), and those are very good. But I need more bible-like ones for other foods and other types of baking. Cooking is a religion, and you need textual inspiration and affirmation.

Books for which I intend to scour Liberal College City's used bookstores or get on my next book budget or birthday, which I also suggest to you in order of importance (e.g get the high-ranked ones first, the Chez Panisse ones are not as necessary to building your store of skills and ideas):

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman (this is like the New Testament)

Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten (I like books for home cooks; too fancy and you'll never make them)

Jacques Pepin's Table (out of print, but a good book!)

The Tartine Bakery Cookbook (the best bakery in America)

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child (low ranked only because the above are more versatile and cross-cuisine)

The Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook (the slow foods movement: a good idea, hard to keep up, hard to sustain in less agricultural parts of the country)

Chez Panisse Desserts (the Tartine book is better)

Irresponsible Picnic: Lemon-Fennel Chicken Sandwiches and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yesterday, with some help, I escaped the library by going on an impromptu, irresponsible picnic--the best kind! We went up to a nearby park that was really beautiful, sat next to a lovely lake, watched ducks swim, and froze our bottoms while filling our bellies with Not-Turkey Sandwiches. It was very awesome.

Next time I am packing a thermos of laced hot cocoa. First I have to buy a thermos. And whatever you lace hot cocoa with.

Lemon-Fennel Chicken Sandwiches With Sauteed Peppers, Onions, Arugula, and Basil Pesto

See the recipe for basil pesto.

Ingredients for Two Sandwiches:

3 chicken thigh cutlets (or 2 chicken breasts, if you must use dry, bland, healthy white meat)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. fennel
1/4 cup of flour to dredge
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 red bell pepper, julienned into small strips
1/2 onion, cut into thin half-rings
2 slices of swiss cheese
1 tbs. basil pesto (or more)
Handful of arugula
1/4 cup olive oil
Two ciabatta sandwich buns, split in half (or just cut up a ciabatta however you want)

Salt, pepper, and fennel up the chicken pieces on both sides. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the chicken pieces, and allow to marinate. At least 10 minutes for light flavor, a few hours or overnight for total juiceyness and strong lemon flavor

Heat the oil in a skillet until ver hot. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, tap excess off. Fry in pan, 3-4 minutes each side (or more) until crisp and browned and cooked through. Remove to a plate. After cool, cut into thin slices.

Add the peppers and onions to the skillet, and sautee until soft and slightly charred.

Spread the homemade pesto on the toasted ciabatta. Arrange everything in the bread to your liking, and "sandwich" together.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Underbake for soft, chewy cookies, bake a little longer for crispier ones. I do both.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1.5 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended.

Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended.

Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup* at a time onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.

Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

* 1/4 cup cannot be right, as it made a cookie approximately 8″ across, an egregious excess by any standard. For a typically oversized cookie, use 1/8 cup.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hey Presto, Basil Pesto!

Instead of a picture of green paste, I give you a picture of love: a basil plant given to me by Amber, and the source of many pesto meals. I have to wait a while between pesto yumminess, but fresh pesto is worth it!

I toss this with pasta and grated parmesan, or spread it on sandwiches. Pesto makes everything better!

Basil Pesto

2cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Special equipment needed: A food processor

1. Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

2. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Makes 1 cup.

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