Category Archives: Recipes

FULL THROATED PANIC

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:

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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:

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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:

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Happy Latkes to everyone!


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RECIPE – OYSTERS, A HAZELNUT-CHOCOLATE SANDWICH COOKIE

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.

Oysters
A hazelnut spritz cookie with dark chocolate filling

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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

  • 1 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
  • 1/2 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)
  • 1/2 cup Heavy cream

Special equipment

  • Cookie press
  • Food processor
  • Cookie sheets (parchment or silicon baking liners are optional)
  • Cooling racks

Directions for cookies:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F
  2. Cream shortening with butter
  3. Add sugar and eggs to butter and mix until fluffy.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix flour and salt
  5. Measure out milk or cream. Add vanilla to milk or cream.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Cookies must be completely cooled before filling. I usually bake these one day, then fill them the next.

Directions for filling:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. This will make a very heavy, fudge ganache. Add more cream if you prefer it thinner.
  3. 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.


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PAELLA ON THE BEACH

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.

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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.

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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:

INGREDIENTS:

Cooking Vegetables:

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

Meat:

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.

Seafood:

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.

Broth:

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.

Other stuff:

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.

Olive oil

Dry white wine, about a cup

Fresh ground black pepper

Finishing:

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

COOKING METHOD:

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.

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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.


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BLINTZ BLITZ

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:

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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.

On traditions:

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.

Instructions:

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

2 eggs

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.


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HOLIDAYS APPROACH BEARING FUDGE AND LATKES

A small holiday this year. Long time readers may remember that I usually bake at least 10 kinds of cookies for the Hanukkah/Christmas season. This year work expanded to eat most of my prime baking weeks, so my cookie plans were diminished. This year’s set is all tried and true family favorites, with no experiments or departures into the unknown. I’ve managed to make only these:

  • Chocolate chip
  • Rum Balls
  • Mexican Wedding Cakes
  • Peanut Butter
  • Chocolate crinkles (aka Earthquakes)

Plus panforte (two cakes as gifts); and the usual super easy condensed milk/bittersweet chocolate/butter fudge. I will say that I did something new on the fudge. I roasted some whole almonds leftover from the panforte then mixed up the fudge as usual. But instead of ladling it all into a square baking pan to harden, instead I hauled out some bendy silicon oval baking forms:

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and tossed some nuts in each cuplet, then filled each with the fudge mixture. When all had hardened in the fridge, I popped out these:

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All in all, a much nicer presentation than the squashed looking, inexpertly cut squares that usually result when I try to slice the cake- pan-produced fudge block.

In other news, the camo valence curtains have been finished. Pix await the teenager’s room being tidy enough to photograph. Another pair of gift socks has been completed, and the rest of the holiday preparations have been made.

Since tonight is Latke Night, in the spirit of the holidays I share (again) my family’s latke recipe. I first posted this 1995 as a gift to the old pre-Yahoo KnitList. It’s been collected in a knitters’ recipe collection since.

MINNIE LEIBOWITZ’S LATKES

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Latke rules:

1. Every family does it differently.

2. Every family’s latkes are the best.

Latkes (sans sour cream) were a common accompaniment for meat leftovers that might not otherwise be enough to go around. Latkes (with sour cream) were the center of a traditional dairy meal.

Latkes work best when the potatoes are old because old spuds are more watery and brown better than new ones, probably because their starch has begun converting to sugar. Grandma’s general rule of thumb was

eaters-1 = number of potatoes, and

potatoes-1=number of eggs.

You can’t make this for one eater.

Ingredients for five eaters as a major side dish:

  • 4 large raw baking potatoes (about man-fist size), ones that are starting to show their age are better. I’ve also used Yukon Golds. They work nicely, but have to be watched carefully during frying because they brown more quickly.
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Water
  • Lots of plain old vegetable oil for frying. (Olive oil and corn oil won’t work.)

Equipment:

  • Pyramid-style grater – the tin or stainless kind with the different size holes on each side.
  • Frying or saut pan(s)
  • Band-Aids

Serve with:

  • Sour cream or applesauce

Directions:

Grate the potatoes on the side of the grater that produces mush. You don’t want potato shreds, you want potato slurry. I’ve not found any modern kitchen appliance (including the Cuisinart) that can produce the correct consistency. Also, I’ve never made these without skinning at least one knuckle. This is where the Band-Aids come in. 🙂

My grandmother peeled the potatoes first. I don’t. She was horrified by my oversight, but I notice no difference in the finished product between the with- and without-peels versions. The potato mush will turn ugly gray-brown- even if you’ve bothered to peel. Don’t worry, this also has no effect on the finished product.

Mix in the eggs and salt thoroughly. Add some of the flour and about a third of a cup of water. Wait about 10 minutes for the sludge to absorb the water and flour.

Now comes the hard part. The mush should be very thin and watery – far more watery than pancake batter. Since potatoes aren’t uniform in starch/moisture content, the exact amounts of water and flour to add to get to this consistency can’t be predetermined.

Heat oil (about 1/4 inch deep of oil) in the frying pan or pans – I use two small saut pans on separate burners because my stove won’t heat a big pan evenly.

Spoon a dollop (about 2 measuring Tbs worth) of the potato mush into the hot oil. If the batter is thin enough and the oil hot enough, the latke should spread out and have thin, lacy edges. Adjust the mush, adding more water or flour to achieve these results. If the latkes are too watery and the oil too hot, you’ll just get potato splatters, not things you can pick up and eat. If the batter is too thick or the oil is too cool, the latke will keep the shape you spooned and be heavy, greasy, and patty-like.

Fry latkes in batches of two or three until they are golden brown on the first side, then flip them over. I use a fork to stab and flip rather than a spatula because if the latke is too soft to spear, it isn’t ready to turn.

Replenish the oil as needed. The ideal Leibowitz latke is very thin with a wide crispy edge. When hot, it should be too crunchy to fold in half.

Grandma drained the finished latkes on paper towels or brown paper. I find they get less soggy if they are drained on a wire rack.

Serve immediately with cold sour cream or applesauce. When my grandmother made these we kids would sit around the kitchen table like baby birds with mouths open wide, waiting for each pan full to be done.

Variations:

In accordance with Latke Rule #1, some families grate a small bit of raw onion into the mix. Others serve the latkes and sour cream with a very generous sprinkle of chives on top. Other families go for the sweet and spike the applesauce with a healthy amount of cinnamon. A friend’s family serves latkes with an apples stewed in honey-water dish I’ve never seen anywhere else. Other families belong to the “potato shreds held together with potato starch or flour and egg” school. These are good too, but they are not *the best* (see Latke Rule #2).

If you’re very good, I’ll post the family blintz recipe, too.


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ACTUAL PROGRESS. AMAZING.

I feel like I’ve landed on the planet of the domestic divas. Everything I did this weekend involved knitting, sewing or cooking.

First, the Chicken Viking Hat is finished!

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It’s shown here on a random stuffed toy – no infants of appropriate size being to hand at the moment.

The CVH is quick knit, although getting the legs on and finished were both a bit fiddly. Luckily I had some stuffing left over from a previous project because I violated Knitting Rule #4, and didn’t bother to read the whole thing through before I sat down to attempt it.

My only other caution is a minor one – If anyone is going to knit up your own CVH, be advised that on the diagram of how to pick up the stitches that form the leg, there is one 90-degree corner, and three slightly rounded ones. That 90-degree corner indicates the direction that the feetie part of the drumstick will point. I didn’t make the mistake of making the two feeties go in different directions, but I can see that doing so might be a very easy and natural error. (Why do I call them feeties? Because that’s what we’d call the real thing when as kids we’d haunt the kitchen when my grandmother made chicken soup. Only the best behaved kids got feeties from the stock pot as a pre-dinner special treat.)

My camo valences are also coming along. Everything is proceeding as per the plan and diagram in the last entry. Here’s Valence #1, all ironed out and pinned prior to stitching.

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And I also managed today to do my community service obligation. I baked for the Election Day bake sale, to be held at (and benefit) Younger Daughter’s elementary school. Class for both kids is canceled on Tuesday. Usually voting happens with no interruption of school. My guess is that they’re anticipating record turn-out. That means lots of people hungry to express their political will, who might also be hungry for cinnamon hazelnut teacake, or cocoa spritz cookies.

On the teacakes, I used a mini loaf pan that produces four small cakes, sort of like this one.
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One recipe of the batter (plus about a half cup of ground hazelnuts in the batter and another half cup in the topping) worked perfectly in it although I did end end up baking the cakes for about 10 minutes longer than the recipe advocates. All four cakes turned out quite nicely.

The cookies also were a success, with one iteration of the recipe making approximately 115 1.5-inch cocoa stars. However I find that most published cookie press cookie recipes are way too stiff for my presses and this one was no exception. I want my batter to be something like refrigerated peanut butter in consistency. It should be so soft that it must be shoveled into the tube – not something that can be taken up and rolled into neat cylinders and inserted. I used an extra tablespoon of cocoa in the spritz cookies, plus considerably more milk than it calls for to achieve my target texture. I used sour whole milk in both the teacakes and the cookies, having some in the fridge this week. It worked nicely, providing both with a tiny bit tangier taste than usual.


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A PRESENT

Here’s a present for the new year, or to celebrate arrival of fall, whichever has more meaning to you. I post my grandmother’s savory noodle kugel recipe – from the same grandmother whose latke and blintz recipes I’ve shared before (but not on String – I’ll have to fix that). I see lots of how-tos on the web for sweet noodle kugels, with cottage cheese, sugar and even cinnamon and raisins, but very few for non-dairy savory ones to serve as a meat meal side dish. As a kid, this noodle kugel with onions was one of my favorites, especially alongside roast chicken.

One quick note about noodles. The curlier the ribbon style noodle, the looser texture your finished kugel will be. Many brands of bagged egg noodles have a very slight spiral to their shape, to make them look fluffier when cooked. You can see the spiral in these:

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If you can find them, choose a flatter rather than a more curly noodle, preferably of medium width. This will make a denser, moister kugel. If you can’t find flatter noodles, use the others, but be prepared for a final product that’s drier, crunchier throughout, and that falls apart when cut. Manischewitz, Streits and Goodman all make the “old fashioned” flatter type noodles.

You can use either yesterday’s leftover noodles (which is what I do when I make a little kugel), or cook up noodles just for this dish. If you cook up noodles to make this, you’ll get the best results if they are room temperature or cool from the fridge rather than just-drained and steamy hot.

On what to cook this in – I strongly suggest a Pyrex dish or pan. A clear or tinted glass pan will let you see when the bottom is brown and done. A glass pie plate will work in a pinch, but I prefer something deeper, and depending on the size of my kugel will use either a clear glass loaf pan, 8″ square baking dish, or a slightly larger oval glass casserole dish. Whatever pan you use, make sure that it is both VERY well oiled, and pre-heated before putting the noodles in it. Doing both will eliminate sticking.

Apologies for not having pix of the finished product, but we ate every bit of it before I thought to write up this entry.

Minnie Leibowitz’ Noodle Kugel (in three sizes)

Small – (Fills one loaf pan, about 4 servings)

About 2 cups of leftover cooked egg noodles (measured after cooking)
1/2 medium onion, sliced very thin
2 Tbs vegetable oil
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Large – (Fills one 8″ baking dish, about 8 servings)

1 whole 12-oz box or bag of egg noodles, previously cooked.
1 medium onion, sliced very thin
2-3 Tbs vegetable oil
3 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Giant – (Fills one large oval glass casserole dish, about 10-12 servings)

1 whole 16-oz box or bag of egg noodles, previously cooked.
1 and a half medium onions, sliced very thin
3 Tbs vegetable oil
4 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Method (all)

Preheat oven to 350, pour oil into Pyrex pan and oil the bottom and sides very generously. Pour remaining oil out of Pyrex pan and into a saute or small frying pan. Saute onions in oil until they are golden. While sauteing, put the Pyrex dish in the oven to heat it up.

When onions are done (takes about 15 min or so), beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl and dump in the noodles. Scrape the onions into the mixing bowl. Toss noodles, egg and onions together to separate the noodles and combine the ingredients, adding salt and pepper. When well mixed, remove the Pyrex pan from the oven and turn the noodle/egg/onion mass into it. Return Pyrex pan to oven, turn the heat down to 325 and cook until noodles are brown and bubbly on the bottom and crunchy on the top, about 45 min to an hour, depending on the size of your kugel.

When done, it’s best to let rest a few minutes before cutting into portions, especially if you used a curlier noodle. Can be served hot, warm or cold.

Enjoy!


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YEASTY DOINGS

A quiet weekend here at String. Work made some inroads into it, but I had enough time to catch up on some much-needed household maintenance, and even to shovel out a little bit of family-spoiling. To that end, I baked homemade bread, and made flour/salt dough for Younger Daughter to play with. Older Daughter wasn’t interested, but appreciated that Younger Daughter was otherwise occupied for most of the weekend. And both ate the bread.

The immediate inspiration for the bread adventure was Rose Levy Birnbaum’s Real Baking blog. In particular – her recipe for Baby Hot Pot Bread. I’ve made bread before, but I’ve always been very disappointed in the result. To date my breads have been cakey and crumbly, with none of the crunchy crust or stretchy, chewy goodness/hole-filled interior that I like. I got the closest with various Challah recipes. Although good they weren’t what I was looking for.

Rosie’s bread looked too good and too easy not to try. I admit I mercilessly slaughtered her recipe. I did all sorts of things that should have totally sabotaged it. I doubled the recipe because my in-house bread vultures would scarf down one tiny loaf in one meal. Not a good thing to do because in baking ingredient proportions don’t always scale. I substituted a half a cup of whole wheat flour for some of the flour in the recipe because I had it in the house and wanted to use it up. Again not an ideal practice as different flours have different properties. And for that matter, I didn’t use the flour specified. I used King Arthur all purpose, which again is what I had in the house. I didn’t have a Silpat baker’s mat, but I did have a flexible plastic cutting board that served the same purpose, and I only had one cast-iron Dutch oven, so I used a Le Creuset 5.5 quart lidded pot for the second loaf.

But none of these were my biggest challenge. That was the ambient temperature of my house. It’s far too cool here for optimal rising. The usual solution for this is to put the rising dough in the oven with just the oven light turned on. My oven light doesn’t heat the oven enough. I investigated all sorts of alternatives – even writing to Rose for advice. Since I didn’t have the time or resources to build a proofing box, I ended up doing a combo of things, depending on the time of day and what heat resources were available. I turned the oven on very low and put the bowl on top of the stove, covered with a towel. Later I moved it next one of our hot water radiators, again tented with towels. My last resort would have been putting it (well wrapped against dust) on top of our furnace in the basement. To make up for the borderline temperatures, I ended up letting the thing sit for longer than suggested. My first rise lasted more like 24 hours than 18. The second rise was also temperature-challenged. It went very slowly. I don’t think my loaves ever achieved their potential full volume.

My warmth seeking machinations, the wrong combo of flours, messing with the rise times and other aberrations did not leave me with a high level of confidence when I dumped my two misshapen mini-loaves into their respective pots for final baking. But the recipe is a robust one, able to survive even me. My loaves were perhaps a bit more dense than optimal, but lovely. A very firm, crisp crust; a stretchy, strongly flavored interior, full of holes; no scorching (I was afraid of this given the heat of the pots). And no baking stone full of corn meal, flour, or other burnt crumbs to clean up.

I present the less photogenic of my two efforts. We ate the prettier loaf last night. The sliver of the heel off the narrowest part of my poorly formed bread is just enough to barely make out the airy holes.

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The play dough we made was of the uncooked flour and salt variety: About 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of salt, .25 cup of cooking oil, and about 1 cup of water (we started with 3/4 of a cup but found we needed more). We didn’t bother to color it, knowing that the final product would be baked along with the bread and painted when cool. Here are some of the results. Smaller Daughter saw this entry in the Craft magazine blog, and went on to make her much larger Ninja Valentine statue:

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Knitting? I did some of that, too. My Sarah James Ribbed Leaf Sweater back is long complete, and the front is finished to about three inches above the bottom of the armholes.

Rather than give you yet another poorly photographed misshapen object to contemplate, I mark my progress using a visual of the sweater pattern’s own illustration, with a convenient line of demarcation.

leafsweater.jpg

Now it’s back to work. The forecast this week is “heavy deadlines, with the possibility of a mid-week blizzard.” February is such a joy.


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MORE HOLIDAY COOKING – PECAN SANDIES

As promised, here is the Pecan Sandies recipe I use. It’s a legacy from my Buffalo family – from hand-written notes shared by my mother-in-law Gail, originally attributed to her cousin. I’ve redacted the recipe a bit to add instructions (the original groups the ingredients in two units and says little more than mix the groups together, roll into balls and bake). This makes a boatload of cookies, with a yield about twice that of most typical cookie recipes. But then again, considering the large families common in Buffalo in the 1960s, I’m not surprised. I have to admit I’ve never counted exactly how many I get beyond “two boxes full” – probably something in the neighborhood of 6-8 dozen depending on cookie size.

A note on ingredients. I buy a bag of raw, unsalted pecan halves for this at Trader Joes. Then I set one of the kids to sorting the pecans. All the unbroken pretty halves go in one bowl. All the broken ones and pieces go in the second. I usually have enough bits and less attractive pieces to furnish the ground pecans needed in the recipe. The pretty halves are reserved as decoration. I usually have enough of those too. If need be, some cookies go bare. Finishing the cookies with pecan halves is another tinker I’ve done to the recipe. They were naked in the original.

Other notes: There is no need to sift the flour for this recipe. I use shortening for these rather than butter. Butter makes the cookies richer but much softer. I get a good baking rhythm going on these using two insulated baking sheets, two cooling racks, and four pieces of parchment. If you don’t want to use baking parchment, you can lightly grease the cookie sheets. But the parchment is worth the investment in ease in batch manipulation and clean-up, plus speed of production (no washing baking pans between batches). You can substitute store-bought ground pecan meal for the finely chopped pecans. Although I haven’t tried it, I suspect you can also make this cookie with almond meal and top with whole almonds, but then you’d have almond sandies…

Sue, I don’t know if we’ve ever met, but thank you for the cookies!

sandies.jpg

Sue Ralicki’s Pecan Sandies
Makes roughly 6-8 dozen depending on cookie size

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans, ground fine in a food processor
  • More granulated sugar to roll cookies in prior to baking
  • Pecan halves for garnish

Equipment needed:

  • Two mixing bowls, one for the wet and one for the dry ingredients
  • Flexible stirring spatula or mixing spoon
  • Hand held mixer (or stand mixer if you’re lucky enough to have one)
  • Food processor to grind nuts (alternate method – put them in a ziplock plastic bag and beat them into submission with a meat tenderizer mallet, rolling pin or other heavy object)
  • A small bowl or plastic bag to hold the granulated sugar for coating the cookies
  • At least one and preferably two flat baking sheets (not lipped jelly roll pans)
  • At least one and preferably two racks on which to cool the cookies
  • A tin, ziplock bag, or airtight box to store the finished cookies

In a large mixing bowl, using a hand mixer, beat together confectioners sugar, granulated sugar, shortening, and vegetable oil until completely blended. Add eggs and vanilla and beat to incorporate.

In a second bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar. Pour these dry ingredients into sugar/shortening mixture, stir well to incorporate. Add finely chopped pecans and stir again to ensure everything is mixed together. Chill the dough for about an hour.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375-degrees. Form the dough into balls slightly smaller than a walnut. Roll the balls in granulated sugar to cover. Place them about two inches apart on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment (the cookies will puff up and spread a bit). If you are garnishing each cookie with pecan halves, dip the nut halves in water and press firmly on top of the sugared dough balls on the cookie sheet to make them stick. The balls may crack a bit around the edge. That’s expected.

Bake cookies at 375-degrees for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned. Slide the cookie-laden parchment sheet onto a rack to cool. Cookies can be stacked in an open box once partially cool, and the parchment sheet can be re-used for a subsequent batch. Once fully cool, store in an airtight box or cookie tin.


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YES, THERE REALLY ARE TEN KINDS OF COOKIES

In fact, this year, there are eleven plus fudge. I offer up ocular proof, plus a round-up of baking notes:

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Starting from the top left and reading each row across

Row 1:

Row 2:

Row 3:

  • Green (and minty) tree-shaped spritz
  • Pecan sandies
  • Lime cookies with lemon sugar dusting (new this year)

Row 4:

I’ve linked to or highlighted the source of most recipes. Here are some notes:

Fudge – Absolutely the easiest thing to make if you’ve got a microwave and a microwave safe bowl. We make it last to use up any leftover nuts (and because more than half this household is made up of chocolate fiends). Have a significant other who is mad for chocolate? Impress her/him with this even if your cooking skill so far is limited to opening a jar of peanut butter.

Lemon cutouts with ginger glaze – I start with the basic sugar cut out recipe in Joy, but add lemon zest. I usually frost these with confectioners sugar to which I add lemon juice until it’s paint consistency plus colors. This year since I had another cookie that ended up being more lemon than lime, so I went looking for a flavor we hadn’t done yet in this year’s cookie crop. I thinned the confectioners sugar with ginger juice (grate a thumb-sized piece of ginger onto a paper towel, then squeeze tightly to extract the juice). Wow. A do-again to be sure!

Biscotti – This piece looks good, and they taste wonderful. But I added whole toasted almonds plus the cherries, and the dough proved too crumbly to make many pretty pieces. But we’ll enjoy eating the crumbles! I’ll keep hunting for a better biscotti-with-stuff-in-it recipe.

Rum balls – This year we did the classic cocoa/vanilla wafers/pecans one. I’ve tried other combos but I like it the best. This is another no-bake cookie that’s difficult to mess up, provided you make it at least a week before you serve it so that the flavors mellow.

Classic peanut butter cookies – In this house we use chunky peanut butter. Heresy, but heresy with more texture.

Oysters – I’ve gone on about these before. They’re one of the three “must haves” along with peanut butter, and chocolate chip.

Green mint trees – I got a last minute call from one of my third-grader’s “room moms” alerting me to a party this week and requesting cookies with no nuts in them. While anything produced in my kitchen won’t pass muster for a nut allergic kid, there are no allergies in the class. So I made plain spritz trees, starting with the recipe in Joy of Cooking, adding a touch of mint flavoring and the lurid color. It’s not as forgiving a spritz recipe as my own Oyster one, and the tree shape isn’t one of the more reliable dies, but we got a batch done that will (in its entirety) go to school on Monday, leaving no memories behind other than a lingering ghoulishly green shadow on my fingernails.

Pecan Sandies – A family recipe. I’ll share this one in its entirety later this week. My variation on the thing is to add the half-pecan to the top before baking. An easy and tasty cookie from a recipe with a huge yield.

Lime cookies – I started with the King Arthur recipe, but could not find sour salt (citric acid) locally – my favorite baking supply source having closed forever last month. Horrors. Instead I improvised. Lemonheads candy is mostly sugar and citric acid. So I ground up a bag into a powder, and used it to dust the cookies. It worked extremely well – nice and lemony tart. But it did overwhelm the lime-nature of the cookie itself, and I find that the lemonheads dust is more of a humectant than is plain powdered sugar. The cookies need to be stored with air circulation, otherwise they get sticky and lump together. (I’ll probably roll them one last time in plain powered sugar before sending them on their way).

Classic chocolate chips – the recipe on the back of the Tollhouse bag, although (another heresy) – I use Ghiardelli semisweet chips instead because I like them better.

Earthquakes – I was introduced to these the year before last by a good pal (Hi, Kathryn!) I’m not using the recipe she sent to me, mostly because I know it’s filed here on my desk and saved securely (it was VERY important that I do so). Unfortunately, it’s saved so securely that I can’t find it and am too ashamed to admit it. So I went looking for something equivalent to the one she sent me. This one is pretty good, but hers was better.

Linzer cookies – Nope, you don’t need a fancy set to make these. The set makes it easier and the cookies prettier, but it’s not necessary. I happened to have a fluted circle cutter on hand, and a mini leaf cutter. But you could use a water glass to cut the big circle and a top from a screw bottle of water or soda to make the smaller window. This dough is pretty easy to handle for a roll-out. And the taste is fabulous. More work than most, but according to the Resident Male – worth the effort.

Later this week – ultimate holiday luck, the sandies recipe, plus some actual knitting content.


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