Where have I been? In Pune, but now home in the US for a brief visit. What have I been doing? Mostly wallowing in ennui. For whatever reason, I have not been motivated to do much, not working on projects, researching, or writing here.
I can report that aside from the transoceanic trip, we did do one major thing. We hosted a “happy hour” party for 25 of The Resident Male’s coworkers, holding it at the apartment. I did all of the prep and cooking. I made samosas, falafel, hummus, guacamole, and Chinese scallion pancakes (adding some minced hot peppers to the scallions). I also improvised a mixed olive salad, and paneer with a Thai-style peanut sauce. Everyone had a good time, and using consumption as a barometer – the snacks were well received. The scallion pancakes in particular were prime, and a do-again, for sure!
There is some minimal progress on my latest shawl. I test-knit a new MMarioKnits product, but others were far speedier than me. Most of the corrections I found were posted by others, and my finished project was not completed in time for photography for the cover of the pattern. The main reason for this was a major lace disaster. While photographing the piece, I managed to drop upwards of 90 stitches, and needed to ravel back to a solid point and re-knit. After coming in so slowly for completion, I decided to punt the official as-written, minimal bind-off treatment, and add a knit-on lace edging. I selected a simple one from Sharon Miller’s Heirloom Knitting, picked both for complimenting the lines of the shawl’s main motifs, and for being a multiple of 12 rows, and began. I’m about two-thirds of the way around my circumference, and hope to be done soon.
However, just because I’ve been a slouching, IPad/browser game playing slacker, doesn’t mean the rest of the world stands still.
I’ve said before that I get an enormous kick out of seeing what people do with the patterns and designs I post. Occasionally, folk write to me to ask questions, or send me photos. Other times, I track links to my pages back to the point of origin. If I stumble across something I ask the owner if I can repost their work here, with links or attributions as they desire. Here are the products of two people who sent me pix of their stitching this month.
Elaine from Australia delighted me with these two projects that include filling motifs from Ensamplario Atlantio:
Both were presents for friends. I’m not sure which one I like more – the piece for the Kiwi audiophile, or the one for the Lovecraft aficionado.
Meanwhile, Jordana in New York used two of the Ensamplario designs for the cover of a charming two-sided needle case. Here are her photos of the work in progress, and the finished item:
Well done to Elaine and Jordana! Special thanks to both of them for making my day!
An eventful week here at String India, punctuated by the refusal of Windows Live Writer to run without crashing, which explains the lack of posts.
First, I present the results of a local yarn crawl. Local Ravelry KnitPal RedHeadedWoman and I went on a yarn and stitching supply locating expedition to the center of Pune. We crawled in and out of tiny shops that offered the most amazing variety of trims, beads, sequins, pre-stitched blouse yokes, and brocades. No where on earth does bling with the variety and joyful elan of India. Yarn was harder to find, and real wool or silk was unicorn-rare. But there were lots of colors of man-made fibers in various weights.
I came away with some crimson laceweight. It’s about a 2/20 weight and in all probability, either all acrylic or an acrylic/nylon blend. I’ve got roughly 400 grams (about 14 ounces), so I’d estimate that I have in the neighborhood of 4,500 yards. I also got two fistfuls of small metallic beads, one silver tone, and one antique gold. The princely haul below set me back about 600 rupees, roughly $11 US.
Special thanks to RedHeadedWoman for the fun of poking around the market stalls!
Second, I present a happy food triumph of the slightly misshapen variety: Samosas.
Samosas are one of the 10,000 snack foods for which India is famed. It’s a highly adaptable fried or baked turnover, turning up with all sorts of fillings, in all sizes, and at all venues, from the most posh cocktail parties to street food stands. About all I can see that unites them is a vaguely triangular shape and the happiness with which they are greeted.
I tried my hand at one of the most common types – a “truck stop size” samosa, filled with potatoes, peas and onions, spiced with lots of garlic and masala (a spice mix that varies from region to region and cook to cook). We had ours with soup for dinner, but this is the type that’s most commonly available as street food, at roadside rest stops, or other places where food on the go is appreciated.
I started with this recipe, but quickly veered off on my own. Note that the filling can be prepared way ahead and fridged, then brought back to room temperature before stuffing the samosas and frying them.
Therefore, not pretending to offer up anything remotely resembling “authentic,” I present:
One American Chick’s Sort-of-Samosas
Makes 16 “truck stop lunch size” filled fried pastries
3/4 cup white all-purpose flour (maida)
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (atta)
2 Tbsp ghee or butter – MUST BE SOLID, NOT MELTED
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
Oil for deep-frying
2 medium size onions, chopped
2 Tbsp oil for sauteeing.
8 cloves garlic, minced fine
2 cups frozen or fresh peas
5 fist-size potatoes, peeled
2 tsp garam masala*, or other spices to your taste
1 Tbsp salt
1. Peel the potatoes, chunk them into two or three pieces and set them to boil until tender. Drain the potatoes and salt them.
2. While the potatoes are cooking you’ll have some time. Mix the two flours, the salt and baking powder together. If lumpy, sift. Work the hard ghee or solid butter into the flour mix with your fingertips or a fork, as if you were making scones or pie crust, until all the butter is incorporated, and the flour looks crumbly and grainy – past the point at which you’d stop if this was pie crust.
3. Add about half of the water to the flour/butter mix and combine. Keep adding water slowly and mixing until the dough can be gathered up and briefly worked into a smooth mass. Do not over-knead or the shells will be hard as rocks. Set the dough aside under a damp cloth or in a plastic box.
4. Take about half of the cooked potatoes and dice them into small chunks, about 1.5 cm (1/2 inch). Precision isn’t important, you just want them to be small but noticeable bits in the stuffing. Rough mash the rest of the potatoes with the back of a fork or large slotted spoon.
5. In a large frying pan, saute the onions in the oil until light golden. Add the minced garlic and saute for a minute or two more, until the garlic is fragrant, but not brown. Sprinkle the masala mix onto the onions and saute for another minute or two. Toss in the potato cubes and let them get coated with the oily spicy oniony garlicky mix. Then toss in the mashed potatoes and stir all together. When incorporated, stir in the peas. Taste it and add more salt if needed. Let the stuffing heat on low for another ten minutes for the peas to thaw and cook, and for the flavors to meld. Stir occasionally to scrape up any yummy bits from the bottom back into the filling, and to keep the potatoes from sticking to the bottom. This fully cooked filling can be made way ahead and fridged until needed, although I suggest taking it out and letting it warm up before stuffing and frying the samosas, to ensure that the center doesn’t remain cold.
6. To assemble – have your filling ready. Have a small rolling-pin ready. Take the rested dough and divide it into 8 equal parts. Put the parts back under the damp cloth towel or back into the plastic box until needed. Take the first lump of dough. Flatten it into a pancake and pat it into some loose flour. Roll it out into a circle, as large and as thin as you can (mine was about 10 inches around, and about an eighth of an inch thick). Take a knife and cut the circle into two halves. Each half will make one samosa.
7. Try to follow this video’s folding logic. Moisten the straight edge of the half circle with water, then pat it into a cone. Hold the cone in one hand and fill it with the other hand, patting the filling in to make sure there are no air holes. Pinch the top of the samosa closed in the center (where the cone’s seam is), then pinch the seam shut left and right of that point. Finally, fold the left and right corners of the newly formed seam together and pinch them, too. The professional samosa chef does this by plopping the thing down on the counter and using the side of his hand to make the second seal, at the same time giving his pastry a nice, flat, triangular bottom. Mine were more free-form, looking sort of like the back end of a fleeing chicken. In spite of the laughably unorthodox shape, mine did stay closed while cooking, which is what counts.
8. As the samosas are done, place them on a plate or rack, making sure that they do not DO NOT touch each other. If you are forming them ahead of time and intend to refrigerate before frying, this is an absolute necessity. You can stack them in a large plastic box, but if you do, make sure each one is separated from the others, and waxed paper or plastic wrap between layers is highly advised.
9. When the samosas are all formed they can be either baked or deep-fried. I have no oven and have NOT tested my variant of the pastry for baking. I fried mine, two at a time in a small, deep saucepan, and drained them on paper towels.
* Masala just means spice mix. Garam masala means hot spice mix. There are as many masala mixes as there are Indian households and cooks. The one I dipped into for the potato filling was a home-made gift from Driver Rupesh’s family. It’s a mix of red chili powder, anise, cloves, coriander, cumin, cinnamon and lord knows what else, pan roasted together and ground into tasty goodness. I have another one that’s a home-made gift from work colleague Bavouk’s family. It’s very different, with a subtle lemony/astringent perfume, and is especially delicious on vegetables and chickpeas.
Yes! Blintzes! Bharat being the name of this land to those who live here. Perhaps missing comfort foods just a tad, I had a Stranger in a Strange Land kitchen interlude today, and share my results.
Long time readers here may remember that I shared my grandmother’s blintz recipe a while back. Making them even in the US can be problematic because workable cheeses can be hard to find. I’ve experimented with lots of different cheese mixes over the years, because the ones my grandmother used were not always available where I was living. But inspired by paneer, which is like a super-dry farmer cheese, I was determined to make them here in India. And make them, I did, with excellent success!
Here’s a modified blintz recipe, adapted to local ingredients and availability, and halved in quantity from my for-freezer storage original. For the record, the paneer, dahi (an unsweetened thick yogurt) can be found in every market in India. Mascarpone (a soft, spreadable cheese in the cream cheese family) was found in Auchan Hypermarket – the supermarket a couple of blocks from my apartment. I’ve also seen it in Dorabjee’s.
Please note that blintzes are dairy, but not totally vegetarian, because both the crepes and the filling contain eggs. For equipment you’ll need a grinder/blender, although a hand-held electric mixer would work even better, also a non-stick slope-sided omelet or crepe pan, a paper towel or basting brush, a couple of clean non-fuzzy/non-terry kitchen towels, and a ladle or scoop of some type.
Makes about 28-30 or so
For the crepes:
10 enormous heaping table tablespoons (as opposed to measuring spoons) of all-purpose flour (pile these so high that more can’t balance on the spoon)
3 pints of water
2 tsp salt
Vegetable oil for frying
For the filling:
200g mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup dahi
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
Making the crepes
Using the grinder/blender, and working with only HALF of each quantity above at a time (due to small blender carafe capacity), Combine water and flour until completely smooth with no lumps. Blend in the eggs. Repeat with the other half of the ingredients, and mix the results of the two batches together. This should give you a very runny vaguely yellowish batter. It will be a bit frothy at first – let it sit for about 15 min to disperse some of the foam.
Spread out one clean kitchen towel in a safe spot near the stove. Pour a VERY SMALL quantity of oil into your omelet pan, wiping most of it out with the paper towel. Reserve the towel because you’ll use it again between crepes. Set the pan to heat. When the pan is hot, take it off the heat and ladle just enough batter into it that when the pan is swirled, the bottom is covered. Set the pan back on the flame. The edges of the crepe will release from the side of the pan and curl in, and the top of the crepe will eventually look dry and less shiny. When that has happened, take the pan over to the towel and inverting the pan and rapping it on the towel, turn out the cooked crepe. If it landed folded, spread it out to cool, with the cooked side up. Wipe the pan with the oily paper towel.
Keep making crepes until you run out of batter. It should take only a minute or two for each new crepe to cool. As they cool, stack them in a pile with the cooked side up. The crepes should be thin enough that any pattern or printing on the kitchen towel should show through. If they crack or are totally opaque, they are too thick. You won’t get 28-30 from the recipe. The crepes can be made ahead and left to sit, covered with another kitchen towel, but they should be filled on the same day as they are made. If they are fridged between making and filling, let them come up to room temperature before you attempt to separate them.
Making the filling:
I made the filling in three batches, again because of the limited capacity of my blender/grinder. If you are using an hand-held electric mixer, there’s no reason not to do it all at once.
Using a third of the filling ingredients at a time, blend all together until smooth. Combine the three batches and stir them together, just in case the division was less than perfect.
Filling and cooking the blintzes:
Place a crepe in front of you, cooked side up (you want the cooked side of the crepe to be in contact with the filling, and the uncooked side to be on the outside of the blintz) . Spoon one or two tablespoons of filling onto the bottom third of one side. Fold the bottom edge up over the filling. Fold in the left and right sides. Roll the crepe away from you to make a cylinder roughly the size of a Chinese eggroll. The filling should be entirely encased.
These may be frozen or refrigerated at this point – both of these processes work best if the blintzes are not touching each other. Otherwise they might stick and the outsides might tear.
Saute lightly in vegetable oil starting with the “flap” side down. Blinzes are done when the skin is golden and the filling is firm. Serve with dahi, sour cream, or with applesauce or another sweet condiment. This being India of course, any manner of savory, hot and sweet chutney might be used.
Moral of the story: where there is a will (and cheeses) there is a way!
Long time readers here will remember that December can’t happen without sufficient cookies. Ten kinds. This year, plus panforte and fudge. Which makes quite a pile on the sideboard:
Starting from the top, and going around clockwise, and ending in the center
1. Mexican Wedding Cakes – a pecan shortbread type. Very yummy.
2. Raspberry Thumbprints – Still looking for a good jam thumbprint cookie whose dough retains it shape better. And I suppose I’d be better off with jam instead of preserves, which don’t melt as evenly.
3. Mint Cocoa Swirls – Mint baking pieces were a gift from Needlework Pal Kathryn to Younger Daughter, who produced these. Slice and bake is an underrated cookie type. Will have to explore this more deeply in the future.
4. Oysters – a hazelnut spritz with dark chocolate ganache filling (my own invention).
5. Thin Ginger-Spice – this one (with a handful of finely minced preserved ginger for extra oomph) is rolled out with a peculiar gizmo to impart the design instead of using cookie cutters. I am told that cookies formed this way are called Spekulatius in Germany – Thanks Rainer!
6. Buffalo Bourbon Balls – I usually use rum in these but we were out, so I reverted to the original recipe and used bourbon.
7. Peanut Butter Sunburst – Instead of the traditional fork marking, we use a cookie stamp.
8. Earthquakes – a brownie bite style Chocolate Crinkle cookie, rich and very chocolaty. Nicknamed for the obvious fault lines.
9. Chocolate Chip – the traditional Toll House recipe, with nuts.
10. Lemon Cut-Outs – a standard sugar cookie, with extra lemon juice and zest in the cookie, plus a confectioners sugar icing made with lemon juice instead of the recommended royal icing.
The fudge declines to make an appearance, being still under sentence of refrigeration prior to being chunked into pieces. And yes, those are the two panfortes on the sideboard, marinating in Armagnac. I’ll top those with melted chocolate prior to consumption.
As promised, proof that there are ten kinds (plus fudge) for 2009:
1: Linzer Cookies – recipe from the King Arthur Flour website, this year with almond meal and using cherry preserves instead of raspberry. We used the smallest snowflake shape to make the center hole. The dough is very delicate and is best rolled out between waxed paper, with the center holes being cut after the cookie has been placed on a baking parchment covered cookie sheet. These really are best the day of making because the cookies tend to absorb moisture from the filling. They’re still very good, but they are softer and more cake-like if kept.
2. Light Spice Rolled Cookies -another from King Arthur (their cookie recipes are uniformly excellent). The only substitution I made was to use 1/4 tsp Chinese Five Spice Powder in place of ground cloves. (I don’t like a strong clove flavor). I used the cookie roller described in the last post. Aside from the advice posted there, I strongly suggest very lightly dusting the top of the dough with flour before trying to use the embossed roller, and using the roller without the handle. Cookies are light and crisp, not too sweet. Overall, this is an excellent ginger/spice tea biscuit, worth doing again. (This dough can also be rolled thin and cut out with conventional cutters if you don’t have the roller.)
3. Classic Peanut Butter Cookies – this one is from our circa 1970s copy of Joy of Cooking. We usually use crunchy peanut butter instead of smooth because it makes a better texture, but this year Younger Daughter has braces on her teeth and crunchy is banned for the duration. For decoration instead of the standard fork-tine checkerboard on top we use a cookie stamp, just because we have it. Peanut butter cookies tend to be moist and oily and keep a long time. They’re usually the second cookie we make in our march towards our requisite 10 types.
4. Buffalo Bourbon Balls – This is a standard no-bake cookie recipe that starts with ground store bought vanilla wafers, cocoa, and ground pecans. Ours comes from a version published in one of the Buffalo NY newspapers some time in the early 1960s. I’ve posted it before, but the recipe appears to have gone the way of all things so it’s repeated at the end of this post. We switched to using rum a few years ago, and prefer the results. Rum or bourbon, cookies also benefit from being made at least two weeks in advance so that the spirits mellow out. They’re always the first cookie we make each year because they keep so well.
5. Sugar Cookie Cutouts – this year in snowflake and holly leaf shapes only. Another classic cookie. This one is “Rich Rolled Cookies” also from our old Joy of Cooking. Our variant is to add a couple of drops of lemon extract to the batter, and to make the icing by using just enough lemon juice to make confectioner’s sugar spreadable, then dividing it into several smaller quantities, each tinted with food coloring. This icing hardens up nicely and if the cookies are left spread out after painting until they’re firm to the touch, will not cake up in the tin.
6. Chocolate Chip – our version of the official Toll House cookie recipe, although I do admit we splurge and use Ghirardelli semisweet chips and lots of broken pecans for an over the top touch.
7. Chocolate Crinkles – In this house they’re called Earthquakes because of all the fault lines. I alternate between the King Arthur Flour version, and a very similar cookie recipe from a clipping sent to me by long time pal Kathryn (Hi, Kathyn!). The King Arthur version is smack-you-in-the-face-with-chocolate, but the other one has a better texture and is less candy-sweet.
8. Pecan Sandies – Another recipe with Buffalo heritage, this one is an heirloom from my husband’s extended family. My variant is to sort through the bag of pecans and set aside the unbroken halves, then grind the bits to add to the batter. The pretty halves get dunked in water and pressed on the cookie tops just before baking. As you can see I’ve gotten a little better at shaping them over the years.
9. Easy Fudge – the condensed milk version. Super easy to make and a great way to use up leftover nuts from the other cookies. This year’s was bittersweet chocolate and walnuts. I repeated using the silicon oval baking forms to shape the pieces. Much neater and more uniform than the pat it into a pan and slice method.
10. Tatte Date Nut Rolls – recipe from the Boston Globe. This one was new this year. Preparation was very easy with a klutz-avoid rating of only 2 out of 10. The dough was well behaved, rich tasting dough and yummy date/walnut filling. Although it doesn’t look like there’s a ton of filling while the cookies are being made, the proportion of filling:cookie at the end is perfect. This is a keeper, but it’s not my ideal Christmas cookie. They taste fantastic, and would be the star of any holiday buffet, but they’re too delicate for plonking into cookie-share boxes, and like most fine pastry they do not keep especially long. (I’m thinking of all sorts of other fillings and will make this again for a dinner party, for sure.)
11. Oysters. My own invention. A hazelnut spritz sandwich cookie with a rich chocolate filling. It turns out that Younger Daughter is a dead-eye ace with the cookie press. She formed all of these this year. One caution – use one of the simple cookie press dies. The fancy shapes with small or narrow openings will not work. The ground hazelnuts will clog them and you’ll get the haphazard odd shapes that prompted this cookie’s name.
Buffalo Bourbon Balls
Adapted from the women’s pages of a Buffalo newspaper from the 1960s. Best if made at least two weeks in advance and allowed to mellow in a cookie tin.
Ingredients for cookies
1 12-oz. box
Store bought vanilla wafer cookies
Finely chopped pecans
Light corn syrup
1. Using food processor, grind cookies to powder. Remove from processor.
2. Using food processor, grind nuts finely. Add to cookie crumbs.
3. Sift sugar and cocoa together into crumb/nut mix.
4. Stir in rum and corn syrup. (Clean-up hint – measure the half cup rum into glass measuring cup, add light corn syrup to same cup until total volume equals 3/4 cup. Mix the two together in the measuring cup, then pour mix into dry ingredients. Much easier than trying to measure sticky syrup by itself). Keep stirring wet into dry ingredients until everything is combined (this may take a while).
5. Form into inch balls. Roll in confectioners sugar or a mix of cocoa and confectioners sugar to coat.
6. Store in a tightly covered container. Makes about 40-50 cookies, depending on size.
Variants: Use rum instead of bourbon. Walnut/Bourbon is a good combo. Use almonds and Amaretto; hazelnuts and Frangelica; or almonds and Chambord, Kirsch or other cherry or berry liqueur.
Yes, it’s the end of December here at String, and that means cookies (and latkes). In spite of work younger daughter and I have managed to finish baking nine of our ten planned varieties. For 11, she’s stellar and can mix a batter on her own from the recipe without leaving the kitchen a disaster. She’s also dead eye accurate on the cookie gun, and can turn out uniform spritz cookies on her own. As a result we’ve managed tag team production, with me swooping in to do stuff that she prefers not to do, or juggling the sheets in and out of the oven.
This year’s production included a new item – a light gingerbread style cookie rolled out with a European style cookie roller:
The recipe I used is from King Arthur Flour’s website – Light Spice Cookies. I had tried another from Fine Cooking, but was sadly disappointed. That dough has been relegated to pat-in-pie crust status.
The King Arthur cookies I had made before, using standard cut-out cookie cutters. They turn out quite nicely, sort of like gingery animal crackers, and are especially good when rolled out very thinly. For the record, I use Chinese 5 spice powder in place of ground cloves, just to be different and to tame the clove undertaste a bit (I don’t particularly like cloves).
Here you see the dough roller results. I think the roller’s impressions look a bit like a Mayan Codex.
To get this result, I rolled out my dough very thin, less than 1/8 of an inch. Although it was tender and easy to manipulate, the handle of the cookie roller and not the cookie dough turned out to be the weak part of the system. Applying any pressure at all snapped the removable patterned cylinder out of its mooring. So I set the handle aside and used the heel of my hand to apply slow, even pressure as I rolled out the impressions. The raised bits on the roller are high enough to cut the cookies almost completely out. A small bit of encouragement with the tip of a very sharp knife was needed to release a couple of the tricker bits, like the cat’s tail, and the protruding feather of the upside down bird immediately above the cat (or is it a fox or wolf – it’s hard to tell).
In any case the cookies did separate nicely and the dough preserved the textured detail even after baking:
Nice crisp (almost hard) grown-up ginger spice cookies. Not too soft, not too sweet. A perfect accompaniment to hot tea.
A full visual catalog of all ten kinds later this week. I promise.
All the stitching on Don’t Panic is done! It now goes into the “finish me later” pile. This one will be framed, with a mitered fabric border all the way around. Not sure what color for the edging yet, but I’ll go for complementing rather than matching the deep green thread:
To answer a question, it’s about 8 inches across from border to border.
But I’m still not stitched out. The next one is the Clarke’s Third Law sampler. This one will be a large filled cloth, covered with various patterns in my usual haphazard style, probably a bit less symmetrical than the Do Right piece. I’m thinking that the saying will meander among the patterns rather than being rigidly confined to horizontal rows. It’s on a finer count linen than Panic, stitched with two strands of standard DMC floss. I present the very larval beginning:
It’s yet another strip pattern from TNCM, this one of grapes (Hi, Katheryn!). No, beyond folding the cloth in half to determine a rough center, I have not established a size, alignment lines, border areas, or done any other planning whatsoever. (Purists who baste in their center grids and edges are shuddering in horror right now.) I haven’t even decided whether the final piece will be displayed in portrait or landscape orientation. It will be an adventure.
In other news, in spite of another spate of horror deadlines looming from now to mid January, splatting directly on what was to have been a week off from work, I have started holiday cookie prep. Long time readers here know I aim for 10 types each December, to satisfy the family’s desire for lots of variety and to have plenty to give to family, friends, and co-workers.
This year’s line-up includes the traditional faves, plus a couple of new items. The standards making their annual appearance are chocolate chips, pecan sandies, peanut butter, Buffalo rum balls (so called because my ancient recipe copy is noted as being from the Buffalo Evening News, sometime in the 1960s), earthquakes (very similar to these chocolate crinkles), sugar cookie cut-outs (standard Joy of Cooking recipe, this year with new snowflake cutters), and oysters. Linzer cookies are making an encore appearance, too. The new ones are rolled gingersnaps (using an odd European cookie roller) and date nut rolls (from Tatte Bakery in Brookline, as published in the Boston Globe). Also back by popular demand is the panforte I’ve made before. Oh. And fudge to use up leftover chocolate and nuts. I can hear Elder Daughter hyperventilating over this, all the way from her dorm…
This weekend we baked the two items that improve with age – the rum balls that need to cure to lose that raw rum edge, and the panforte because we’re soaking it in Calvados this year. The others will follow, with the longer keepers like peanut butter being done first, and the tender ones that go stale quickly last (Linzers and the date nut roll). I try to have all baked by the weekend before the holiday. Deadlines willing.
And not to forget this week’s holiday:
Happy Latkes to everyone!
I tried to share my Oyster cookie recipe with some folks today, only to find that the page that contained it has disappeared off this blog. I don’t seem to have it handy in back-up either, so I’m reposting the thing.
You can’t say that this is an original recipe, since plain spritz and chocolate fillings of this type are cookbook standards, but I can say that I noodled what is here out myself. I’ve made them now about eight years in a row, and they remain a family favorite. They got their strange name from the first batch I made. I didn’t grind the nuts finely enough, and bits stuck in the holes of my cookie press. The cookies that resulted were rather haphazardly shaped oozy lumps rather than nice, neat spritz cookie shapes like the hearts below. I mated up the oddball cookies as best I could, but my kids thought the weirdo sandwiches looked a lot like inhabited oyster shells, and the name stuck.
A hazelnut spritz cookie with dark chocolate filling
Ingredient and process notes:
Chocolate – The better the chocolate used for the filling, the better the cookie. We like the bitterness and texture of Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Chips for these. They’re a nice contrast with the sweet, airy cookies. Feel free to go upscale from here.
Hazelnuts – It’s difficult to find shelled hazelnuts. We buy ours at Trader Joes. A one -pound bag will make about two or three batches of cookies, so my best guess is that between a third and a half pound of whole shelled nuts will yield the 2 cups needed for this recipe. I’ve also cracked in-shell nuts for this, but I don’t have a good feel for what weight of in-shell nuts will yield the amount of finely ground nut kernels cited. Note that both the bagged shelled nuts I buy and in-shell nuts still have the inner peels on them. I’ve tried all of the conventional peeling methods, but they are time-consuming in the extreme. I settle for a half-way measure. After I’ve toasted the nuts in the oven, I freeze them. Just before grinding them up for use in the recipe, I take them and handful by handful, rub them between my palms over the sink. About half of the skins will slip off the nuts as they are rubbed. I pop the still-cold nuts into the food processor and grind them up as they are. It’s not a perfect solution, but I don’t mind the look of the cookies with the tiny flecks of brown left by the remaining skins. I also think that using frozen nuts helps keep them from turning into filbert-butter when I’m trying to get a fine grind.
Batter -The batter for this cookie is very soft, almost the consistency of room temperature cream cheese. I do not have a problem handling it in my cookie press, but people who haven’t used them much might prefer a slightly stiffer texture. Popping the batter in the fridge for an hour or two will firm it up and make for easier handling.
Makes around 90 finished filled cookies.
Ingredients for cookies
- cup Unsalted butter (softened) cup plus 2 Tbs Vegetable shortening
- 2 cup Granulated white sugar
- 3 Extra-large eggs
- 1 tsp Vanilla
- 3 cups All purpose unbleached flour
- tsp Salt
- 6 Tbs Milk or cream
- 2 cup Finely ground whole hazelnuts, removed from the shell. These are best if bought whole, then lightly toasted in a 250 oven for about a half hour until they are fragrant, and some of them have toasty-looking edges. Peeling off the inner skin of the nuts is optional (see note above). Once cooled, they should be run through a food processor until they’re very finely ground.
Ingredients for chocolate filling
- 6 oz. Semisweet or Bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli Double Chocolate)
- cup Heavy cream
- Cookie press
- Food processor
- Cookie sheets (parchment or silicon baking liners are optional)
- Cooling racks
Directions for cookies:
- Preheat oven to 375 F
- Cream shortening with butter
- Add sugar and eggs to butter and mix until fluffy.
- In a separate bowl, mix flour and salt
- Measure out milk or cream. Add vanilla to milk or cream.
- Alternately add flour/salt and milk/vanilla mix to butter/eggs/sugar until all is incorporated. (I usually do this by thirds.) You will get a very sloppy, sticky cookie batter.
- Stir in ground nuts. If you like you can refrigerate it at this point and bake the cookies later. The dough will get a bit firmer when cool, but will still be soft enough to pipe through the cookie press. (see note above). If the cookie batter is stiffer than Play-Doh, drizzle in a bit more milk or cream and mix to combine.
- Pipe dough through cookie press onto lightly greased cookie sheets, or onto cookie sheets with parchment or silicon liners. Use a cookie press die with relatively large holes, because the ground nuts will clog up the dies with small holes.
- Bake cookies in 375 for about 8-10 minutes. If you used a bare, greased cookie sheet let the cookies rest undisturbed on the on the hot cookie sheet for a couple of minutes after you take them out of the oven before removing them to a cooling rack. If you used a cookie sheet with a liner, slide the liner onto a cooling rack and remove the cookies from the liner onto a rack when they’ve cooled and set for a couple of minutes. When completely cool, store cookies in an airtight container. They do not need to be refrigerated.
- Cookies must be completely cooled before filling. I usually bake these one day, then fill them the next.
Directions for filling:
- Warm heavy cream in small saucepan over low heat until it just begins to simmer around the edges. Stir constantly while warming to prevent skin from forming.
- When cream is hot, stir in chocolate chips. Remove from heat. Continue to stir off the heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth and spreadable, with no lumps of unmelted chocolate.
- Find two cookies of approximately the same size. While the filling is still warm, spoon a small bit (about tsp) of filling onto one cookie, then press the other on top of the filling. Let the filled cookies cool off on a rack so the chocolate filling firms up, then return them to the airtight container.
Variants: Use walnuts, pecans or almonds in place of hazelnuts. Fill with preserves instead of chocolate. Flavor the chocolate filling with two tablespoons of liqueur.
O.K. I’ve gotten a couple of requests for the paella recipe. I’ll try to write one up, but it’s more of a method description than a quantity accurate and totally reproducible transcript.
We grill ours in a traditional soft carbon steel iron paella pan, placed directly on our barbecue grill. The grill we bring with us is the small Weber Smokey Joe Silver. It’s a small, portable, covered kettle form charcoal grill. This particular model is widely available and inexpensive.
We’ve found that this particular grill accommodates a 14″ pan perfectly. We got ours on line, it was also very inexpensive There’s no need to spend a fortune on a designer pan, just to set it over the coals. Also (believe it or not) – a well seasoned carbon steel pan actually adds flavor to the dish.
To keep the fire going in the grill while we cook we hook three standard department store steel S-hooks over the edge of the grill, then set the pan on top. This provides just enough air space between the pan and the grill to maintain the coals. Without the S hooks, the fire will smother. The hooks don’t hook onto the pan, they just provide a tripod of balance – enough to keep the pan stable while leaving about a quarter inch of airspace all the way around its bottom.
Taking care that the grill is level, we set a medium-large bed of coals going. The fire will need to start hot, then continue for about 45 minutes, so a largish one is in order.
While the fire is heating up we prepare:
About 1.5 cups of diced sweet onion
About 1.5 cups of diced green pepper
4-5 cloves of garlic (more if they’re small), minced fine
1 flavorful sausage, preferably linguica, although we’ve also used andouille, chorizo or other garlic sausage, cut into 3/4 inch slices, about 1.5 to 2 cups
6 chicken thighs, bone in. If large, cut into two parts, leaving one with bone and one without.
Highly optional – a piece of good ham, about the size of a loin pork chop, cubed. The sausage and chicken is more than enough meat, but if you have to use a lesser sausage, the ham will add additional savor.
2.5 pounds mixed seafood, to include shelled, deveined raw shrimp (tail on), fresh scallops (cut into two hemispheres if large); cleaned squid bodies and tentacles with the bodies cut into rings, then fringed by making nicks around the edges about 1/4 inch apart. We’ve also used fresh monkfish or other mild, white flesh large flake fish, but we prefer the squid/scallops/shrimp combo.
One dozen small steamer size or littleneck size fresh clams. Mussels will do in a pinch, but the clams are best. It helps to pour some boiling water over them just before they go into the dish, especially if they’re littlenecks or larger.
Highly optional – one small chick lobster (1.25 lb), raw, but cut into manageable segments, with the body rinsed and cleaned of tomalley (reserve roe if the lobster is a female and stir it into the rice before adding the meats). Very luxurious touch, but in my opinion it’s just gilding the lily.
1 quart chicken stock, preferably low-salt if using store-bought
1 medium size sweet onion peeled but left whole
1 WHOLE VIAL of good quality Spanish saffron – about 1 gram (Nepali saffron although less expensive isn’t a viable substitute). Since we stay out in Truro in Cape Cod we get ours at Atlantic Spice, just down the street.
3 cups of short grain rice. We use Kokuho Rose or Nishiki California grown Japanese style rice. We find they’re higher quality (less broken grains/dust) and more tasty than the rices sold under the Goya or other specialty market brands.
Dry white wine, about a cup
Fresh ground black pepper
A 6oz jar of roasted pimentos, drained and diced
About 6 oz (half bag or whole box) frozen plain petite peas (do not use canned!), run under tap water until they unclump.
Salt (very little of this is needed because the seafood and sausage are both salty)
Optional: Capers for garnish
Put the broth, whole onion and ENTIRE 1 gram vial of saffron into a sauce pan and bring it to a simmer, then reduce the heat. The onion is just there for flavor and won’t be used in the final dish.
Once the coals are ready, we spread them out taking care not to lump them all in the center of the grill. You want a horizon to horizon stable hotness, not a volcano in the center surrounded by cool edges. We fit the pan onto the grill taking care to ensure that it is as level as possible.
We put a goodly amount of olive oil into the pan and when it’s hot, toss in the sausage (and ham if we’re using it). We sear the meat until it’s lightly colored, then scoop it out and set it aside. Then we add the chicken, skin side down to the same pan (adding oil if necessary). We sear that, too – cooking it on both sides until it’s almost but not entirely done, then we take it out and set it aside.
After the meat and chicken are cooked we cook the seafood. We usually start with the scallops because they are the wettest, letting the oil become maxhot again, then searing them on both sides and removing them to a separate bowl from the meats. After the scallops we cook the shrimp and then the squid, both just enough to firm them up and color them, but not enough to cook through (they’ll be added back and cooked more later). All of the cooked seafood can be set aside in one bowl together, although each element should be cooked separately. If you’re using a fin fish, cook it last and very lightly, again just enough to barely firm it up, then remove it from the pan and set it aside.
Now let the oil heat up again. Replenish if necessary. Toss in the garlic, green pepper and diced onion and saute until the onions are lightly translucent. Toss in the rice on top of the veggies and saute the rice for a couple of minutes, long enough to moisten all of it with hot oil and loose that raw rice look.
Now it’s time to begin adding the saffron-laced hot chicken stock which by now should be ultra fragrant and very yellow, almost orange. Don’t bother straining it, let the saffron threads flow freely into the rice. Add a good size ladle full of stock to the rice/veg and stir it slowly over the fire until it’s about 80% absorbed. Add another ladle full and repeat. Then add a cup of the white wine and stir similarly, almost like you’re making risotto. Continue adding stock and wine alternately, slowly and stirring until you’ve got only a cup or so of the stock left and all of the wine is used. The rice should be on its way to being cooked, and the grains should not be as totally soft and amorphous as risotto. At this stage they should still be minorly crunchy in the center. Add ground black pepper to taste, salt too – but remember that all that seafood and sausage is salty and you’ll need way less than you think.
We’re ready to add back the other ingredients. Toss in the peas and diced pimentos and stir. Then add the sausage and chicken, taking care that they’re nicely distributed. Ditto the cooked seafood. Take the in-shell pre-warmed clams and bury them in the rice hinge side down. If the paella looks like it’s dry (there’s nothing bubbly) add the reserved stock.
Now comes the fun part. Pour yourself a glass of wine, admire the beach sunset and watch the thing cook totally uncovered. Wait for the clams to open. Keep an eye on the pan though. The rice at the bottom should make a yummy golden brown crust, but if the fire’s too hot that crust can become charred. If necessary, slow your fire down by lifting the pan (with pot holders!) and sprinkling the coals with a cup of water. Otherwise just watch the paella bubble. Taste a grain of rice now and then. If it still seems crunchy when the clams are beginning to open, add the rest of the stock. If you’ve run out of stock, add a ladle of water. In the pix below we’ve just combined the whole thing and are watching the bubbling goodness, waiting for the clams. This takes about 15 to 20 min or so, depending on the fire.
Open clams and soft rice = done. Take it off the fire, put it on a trivet (the pan is HOT), sprinkle with a couple tablespoons of capers, grab some nice crunchy bread and more wine, then enjoy! This pan feeds us as a voracious family of four for a main course dinner, with enough leftover to be a side dish for another night or two.
A lot of work for beach food? Not really. It’s a half hour of prep mostly dicing the veg and cleaning the seafood, then about another half hour standing over the grill with a drink in hand.
When I posted the latke recipe I didn’t have pix of the in-process or finished product. I made more the other night and (this time) remembered to have the camera handy:
Two pans going. You can see how thin they are, and the crunchy, lacy edges formed when the very runny batter spreads in the hot oil. Yum.
I did promise the family blintz recipe. This time no pix are in the offing. I don’t have any plans to cook these up soon, but a promise is a promise. This recipe like the latke one was originally shared with the KnitList mailing list back in 1995, and was also collected into a knitters-on-line recipe omnibus in 2002.
MINNIE LEIBOWITZ’S CHEESE BLINTZES
(For Grandma this makes about 50 blintzes – for me, about 35-40, my crepes are heavier than hers)
First a discussion of cheeses:
It’s tough to find the right kinds outside of
New York City
, I imagine that it might be even more difficult for people in other countries.
Farmer Cheese – A white soft cheese that is sort of like large curd cottage cheese that’s been pressed until it’s solid. Not particularly sweet, but a tad salty. It is sold in large soft chunks custom “cut” from a big block at the deli/cheese counter, or in small individually wrapped blocks in the prepackaged cheese/butter section of the supermarket. There is no substitute for this – if you can’t get it, skip the recipe. Common brand names on farmer cheese in the Northeast U.S. are “Friendship” and “Breakstone”.
Pot Cheese – To get the authentic texture I like to add pot cheese like my Grandmother did. This is a big problem because no one outside of NYC has ever heard of it. Pot cheese is sort of in between Ricotta and small curd cottage cheese in feel, but dryer and with firmer curds, and sharper than either of them. It’s not as dry or as salty as the farmer cheese. It’s sold scooped into containers at the deli/cheese counter, or in cottage cheese style tubs in the regular dairy section of the supermarket. I’ve tried substituting cottage cheese and Ricotta (even pressing or hanging them in cheesecloth to dry them out). All substitutions have produced disasters. The filling becomes way too soft and wet and breaks the crepes. If you can’t get pot cheese, substitute it’s volume equivalent in farmer cheese. The blintzes will be a bit firmer than my Grandmother’s, but they won’t fall apart. The brand name I remember as I child was “Breakstone”.
Cream cheese – Good old Kraft Philadelphia (the bagel’s friend) works fine. In a pinch I’ve substituted low fat cream cheese, but the filling ended up flabby and bland. Don’t use whipped or flavored cream cheese, only the old fashioned plain kind sold in the silver foil bricks or in bulk.
In our family, blintzes are slightly salty and served with sour cream. Other families make sweeter blintzes and serve them with applesauce or cherry sauce. My Grandmother said that fancy sweet sauces like cherry were “townsfolk” things – rural people like her family couldn’t afford the sugar. Decrease the salt and add a pinch of sugar to the filling if you plan on serving these with a sweet condiment.
For the crepes (blechlach in Yiddish):
16 enormous heaping table tablespoons (as opposed to measuring spoons) of all-purpose flour (pile these so high that more can’t balance on the spoon)
1 1/2 quarts water
7 large eggs (6 if blintzes will be eaten immediately instead of being frozen or refrigerated)
Vegetable oil for frying
Grandma beat the flour and water by hand. It took forever to achieve a lump-free batter. Spare yourself, use an electric mixer. Combine water and flour until completely smooth with no lumps. Adding the flour in by batches makes this easier. Blend in the eggs. This should give you a very runny vaguely yellowish batter.
Heat at least two small saut or frying pans over medium-high heat. (Using one pan at a time takes too long – Grandma and my Great-aunt Itke did a ballet that featured four pans and two cooks). I use the same pans I use for latkes, the non-stick small omelet pans pictured above. Pour a small quantity of oil into a saucer. When the pans are hot, brush them lightly with the oil and drain the excess back into the saucer. Ladle about 3/4 cup of batter into each hot pan and swirl the pan to coat the bottom evenly. Cook until the edges have begun to curl and the center is set. They should be lightly marked with brown spots, but not crispy or stiff. Do not cook the second side. Invert the finished crepe onto a clean dishtowel or old tablecloth to cool. Crepes can be stacked when cool.
I’ve improvised using this basic crepe recipe, flipping them over and cooking them on both sides, folding them around a dollop of sour cream and sprinkling them with cheap lumpfish caviar and slivers of chive or scallions. Very impressive looking when bosses or Important People come to dinner, but don’t tell them that Grandma was the inspiration.
For the filling:
1 1/4 lb. farmer cheese
1 1/4 lb. pot cheese
1 large cream cheese (8 oz. block) at room temperature
1 tsp salt
Mix the ingredients with a spoon by hand until thoroughly combined- do not use a mixer or blender. It’s easier to get the filling uniform in texture if the cream cheese is at room temperature.
To assemble and cook:
Place a crepe in front of you, cooked side down. Spoon one or two tablespoons of filling onto the bottom third of one side. Fold the bottom edge up over the filling. Fold in the left and right sides. Roll the crepe away from you to make a cylinder roughly the size of a Chinese eggroll. The filling should be entirely encased. These may be frozen or refrigerated at this point – both of these processes work best if the blintzes are not touching each other. Otherwise they might stick and the outsides might tear.
Saut lightly in vegetable oil using a heavy pan starting with the “flap” side down. Blinzes are done when the skin is golden and the filling is firm. Serve with sour cream, or with applesauce or another sweet condiment.