Thursday, April 28, 2005

jam-filled heart cookies

next time i feel like baking cookies please remind me not to make rolled cookies, or better yet, just hit me in the head with a concrete pylon. mix, chill, roll, cut, chill, bake, mix, chill, roll, cut, chill, bake, warm jam, cool cookies, fill...get the picture? having said that, these cookies are pretty and might make a good valentine or mothers day treat. you have to be careful to not undercook or overwork the dough else they'll not be crispy and flaky. the first time i made these, they were perfect, the second time they were a little tough due to the aforementioned errors. the irony is that i don't even like jam. sigh, i'm a sucker for a pretty cookie.

Heart Cookies
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons buttermilk
2/3 - 1 cup jam, warmed up

sift flour, baking soda and salt into large bowl and set aside. cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. gradually add flour mixture to wet ingredients, alternating with buttermilk, until combined. wrap dough in plastic and chill at least 1 hour. roll dough out between sheets of waxed paper very thin (1/8 inch). using heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out two hearts of the same size for each sandwich. cut a smaller heart out of one of the pair. place cookies on parchment lined baking sheet and chill for 15-30 minutes (i pop them into the freezer for 5-7) - this will ensure they hold their shape when they bake. bake at 350 for about 10 minutes or until they just turn golden. remove from heat and cool on racks. to assemble cookies, spoon jam on bottom half and press cut out half on top. you can spoon a little extra jam in the cut out if it looks a little patchy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


the other day i was shopping at my local "fancy" (eg expensive) market picking up a few things i needed for that night's dinner when i saw this beautiful jar of red stuff nestled in the condiment section. i love this little nook where you can find things like tapenade, sundried tomato pesto, roasted red peppers and other tasty little morsels. well, the little jar that caught my eye was named harissa. "hmmm" i thought to myself "i've heard of you baby, and i'm gonna get me some". as i was roughly manhandling it into my wicker basket the price tag caught my eye. aghast, i quickly threw it back, outraged that such a little tiny jar could value itself at six bucks. being the tightwad that i am i harumphed away from my beloved aisle, muttering under my breath that i could, no that i would make this harissa, this pepper paste myself and make it better.

to make a long, tedious, dull story short (a story that involves consulting my little foods of the mediterranean cookbook and heading out to the mexican markets for supplies), i did it. i really did. and it didn't cost six bucks for a few ounces, either. the ingredients are pretty basic and the recipe very open to improvisation. my harissa turned out fantastic. i reduced the amount of oil since the jars sold in the stores resembled an olive oil spill valdez-style, and i increased the garlic cause i like it and no longer have to date. at first blush i thought it was too mild, my harissa, and indeed it is not very spicy, but the flavor is very good. if you like it hotter you can leave the seeds in, increase the amount of guajillo chile or just add hotter chilis. next time i might add a few chipotles, seeded of course. also, once the pepper sauce heats up it's spiciness increases as well. i added a healthy few tablespoons of the stuff to a sort of vegetarian tagine i was cooking that night. it added a depth of flavor that was quite surprising. following is the recipe, an adaptation of clifford wright's.

2 oz. dried guajillo chiles
2 oz. dried anaheim or new mexico chiles
5 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons water
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds, freshly ground
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon corriander seeds, freshly ground
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

soak the chiles in warm water for about a half hour or until they are soft. drain. put on some rubber gloves if you have sensitive skin or are using hot chiles. drain, remove stems and seeds, and place in food processor or blender. add the garlic, water, olive oil, salt caraway and corriander. blend until smooth, adding water if necessary. place in a jar and top off with oil. alternately, you could cut out a bit of food wrap and place it on top of the harissa, pressing down to remove air and screw on the lid. this is crucial to prevent little critters from growing on the top of your sauce and spoiling it. you can change the type and proportions of the chiles for a hotter or milder flavor.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

mexican chocolate cake

"she's a nice girl, you'll like her". uh oh. "she has a really good sense of humour". hey-zeuus, better run for your life, my friend. on the other hand, however, this is a really simple cake to throw together and can be done in under 20 minutes, total kitchen time. this almost flourless mexican chocolate cake is an adaptation of a classic french recipe that came together while i was living in mexico, where mexican chocolate is cheap and can be found in any little tienda on the corner. the flavor is not that deep, debauched, heart-of-darkness, pornographic chocolate experience, but rather something a bit lighter, a little cinnamon-y, sweet but not intense. interesting. as for texture, depending on whether i want something more or less cake-y i add an extra tablespoon of flour to the batter (i usually prefer the extra flour). much like a souffle, the beautiful arcing lift achieved while in the hot oven collapses into a mass of slightly concave, elephantine-like folds of sagging skin rippling across the top once it cools. i distrust things that are too beautiful, too perfect, so i am completely at home sprinkling a little powdered sugar over the top and digging in. but for all you shallow, i mean, more visual people out there, a frosting would probably work better. someday i'm going to work on this recipe and actually make it pretty-pretty. but not today.

mexican chocolate cake
3 eggs
3 tablets mexican chocolate (200 grams)
1/2 stick butter (that's 1/4 cup, i think)
1-2 tablespoons flour (1 T. makes it dense, 2 T. more cake-like)

this is a very simple cake that needs no additional sugar since the mexican chocolate tablets already are sufficiently sweet. melt chocolate and butter together and set aside to cool. once cooled, mix with egg yolks and flour. in a seperate bowl beat egg whites until stiff and gently fold in chocolate mixture. pour into 1 round cake pan (greased and floured, or better yet, covered with parchment paper on the bottom) and bake at 450 for 10-12 minutes. remove from oven and watch fall.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

pizza ericina

strip a pizza of all it's accoutrements and what do you have? that's right kids, flatbread. the monstrosity that we americans call pizza accurately reflects our outlook on life. more, more, and then some more. moderation? forgetaboutit. just give us elastic waistbands and next month's fad diet. luckily, many other countries seem to be heading in the same direction as us, girth-wise. maybe we won't so clearly stand out as americans while traveling abroad, garbed in our matching his and hers sweatsuits, fabric straining valiantly against the bulk of our enormous bellies and bums. but i digress. here is a little something inspired by Little Foods of the Mediterranean, by Clifford Wright, called pizza ericina. it's a basic pizza dough recipe rolled out thinly and topped with dried oregano, fresh rosemary, garlic and olive oil. i made the mistake of putting the fresh garlic on the top, forgetting that it always burns and i had to scrape it off. next time i'll use garlic powder or better yet thinly slice the cloves and push them inside the dough. these would also be good with a thin layer of tomatoes on the top as well. this pizza bakes up nice and thin and crispy, just the way i like my little stripped down, free-luvin', nudist pizzas.

pizza dough
one 1/4 oz. packet dried yeast (2.5 t)
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
3.5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 T. olive oil

If you are a lazy cuss and use a bread machine to knead your dough like me, put the ingredients in as specified by the manufacturer and hit the dough cycle, removing it just after it finishes kneading, otherwise dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let rest for 5 minutes or until it froths a little. add salt. add flour and olive oil and mix. form into a ball and knead for about 10 minutes. form into a little ball and place in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise for 1 hr. in a warm place (i put mine in my gas oven - the pilot light keeps the inside at a nice, yeast-friendly temperature). once doubled, visualize g. w. bush's face and punch down. just once now. cover and let rise for another hour. after the second rise, remove from oven and roll out on a lightly floured surface to whichever shape your pan happens to be. you might want to lightly pan spray the bottom. topping: brush a little olive oil over the top and press in 1 Tablespoon fresh minced rosemary and 1 T. dried oregano, plus 4 cloves of fresh garlic (minced sayeth the recipe, but i sayeth leave it out or press slivers deep into the dough otherwise it might burn), plus salt and pepper to your liking, and maybe a little more olive oil, if you like. bake at 450 for about 20 minutes or until done. another variation, which i quite like, it to thinly slice some tomatoes (oh, say about 2 romas) and marinade them in garlic (1 clove) and salt for about 10 minutes. lift the slices out of its juices and lay on top of the pizzas. this might solve the problem of the burning garlic, now that i think of it.....

Sunday, April 17, 2005

don't hate me because i'm beautiful

who are we kidding here? these cookies are loaded with personality, and we all know what that means. ugly. coyote ugly. so ugly you gotta chew your arm off to get away the next morning. looks like chocolate but it ain't. probably looks the same going in as coming out.

these "paul bunyan" cookies are pilfered from the martha stewart website. i think this is a reader donated recipe, god knows martha couldn't birth anything so ugly, i mean, with so much personality.

but they are good. this little spice cookie is loaded with cinnamon, molasses, ginger, oats, raisins, chocolate chips and walnuts, how could they go wrong? i made a few tiny alterations using only 1 tablespoon of batter instead of a giant ice cream scoop's worth and i flattened the dough out a little before baking. if you don't flatten them out they get all humpy, which i don't like. if i want something humpy i'll bake, um, something humpy, like a camel or something... another little note is that they are easy to veganize - just replace the 2 eggs with the equivalent amount of egg replacer. if you're a vegan you know what i'm talking about.

the recipe:
1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable shortening
½ cup sugar
½ cup molasses
2 eggs, beaten (or equivalent amount of egg-replacer)
1 12 oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 ½ cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

grease a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper. sift the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, ginger and salt, set aside. with an electric mixture cream the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. add the molasses. add the eggs. add the flour mixture and beat on low until the dough starts to form. scoop out into 1 tablespoon measure and drop into cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. flatten slightly. bake cookies at 350 for 18 minutes.

Monday, April 11, 2005

the sweet smell of spring

springtime. ah sweet springtime. even though i live in california where we don't have any real (or so they say) weather, the long dark rainy days of winter can really get on your nerves. so it's with tremendous relief and expectation that i watch tiny little buds pop out on brown spindly tree branches, delicate little stalks burrowing their way out of the ground, and a carpet of cherry blossoms blanketing the filthy, bum-strewn sidewalk.

here is a picture of a few of the little fellas i devoured the other night. they were fat, juicy, succulent, slightly acrid and very toothsome. lightly steamed. eaten plain. forget about the over-heralded scent of summer blooms, morning dew and fresh mown grass, the post-digestive aroma of my little green heralds of the changing season is, to me, the sweet, sweet smell of spring.
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