Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cookie Insanity

These.  Took.  All.  Day.

Seriously - the fun started around 9:15, and nine hours later I iced the very last chocolate mint mitten and laid it out to dry.

Iced cutout cookies take an eternity if you do everything from start to finish in one go.  Even with the efficiency measures I took (make one batch of cookie dough, stick it in the fridge, make the next batch and so forth until there were three, then roll them out and bake them in the same order), I didn't even get around to icing them until after 2 p.m.  And lemme tell ya - you know you've made a lot of cookies when you don't even want to sample them anymore.

For these cookies, I stuck with the recipe from the other day and made flavor adjustments with each.

Red cinnamon hats and mittens

For the cinnamon cookies, I simply added a teaspoon of cinnamon before the flour.  Most of these came out about 1/8" thick, which made them smaller and crisper than the cookies I usually make, but they also went farther than the chocolate mint cookies (below).  The biggest challenge with these cookies was the icing: it took about 70 drops of food coloring added to this icing recipe to turn it red!  I kept adding two drops at a time, then four drops at a time...until I reached 70, I was wondering if I'd have to settle for pink Santa hats. 

Almond snowflakes
This is loosely based on various recipes I found for Zimtsterne cookies, which are German almond star cookies enjoyed during the holidays.  At least one of the recipes I found called for ground almonds in place of flour, and all the recipes had rather complicated directions both for the baking and the icing (with meringue, not regular icing).  I decided not to use any of them because, with all the other cookies on my to-do list, I didn't think I had time for a learning curve.  The flavor adjustment I did make was to replace 1/2 cup of flour with ground almonds.  These were also pretty thin and waferlike, and the detail on the snowflake cutter made icing them a bit more of a challenge: I had to run a knife or the side of a fork around each of them to scrape off the excess icing so they wouldn't look misshapen.  For the icing, I replaced the vanilla with almond extract (this was also used on the white parts of the red Santa hats).  Delish!

Chocolate mint hats and mittens
In this cookie dough recipe, I used a teaspoon of peppermint extract instead of vanilla and replaced 1/2 cup of the flour with plain cocoa.  I also used 2/3 stick of butter, because that's all I had left, and I knew from previous experience making chocolate cookies that the 1:3 ratio of cocoa to flour would also soften the cookies.  I only rolled these until they were 1/4" thick, so I got just over two dozen, whereas the other recipes, rolled thinner, each yielded three dozen and change.  For the icing, I replaced the vanilla with peppermint extract and added two drops (I think) of green food coloring.

One discovery I was glad to make with the orange star cookies is that the icing does eventually dry, as stated in the directions - just give 'em a few hours.  So, I made a point of leaving these out until a little after 9:00 p.m., then packed them up and managed to put them away without disfiguring any.

Except for loving the flavor of the almond icing (which I knew I would), I'm going to reserve comments and let my relatives tell me what they think when I give them out this Friday at our extended family Christmas Eve gathering.  I still have plenty of ingredients, so hopefully I'll have time and energy to make more (simple) cookies before I hit the road!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Curried Coconut Chicken Rendang

Today's cooking feat: my first coconut curry dish.
The photo may not be very flattering (the brown stuff is extra sauce heaped on top of the chicken), but it really did turn out well. 

This recipe is in the current issue of Food and Wine (and on their website here).  When I read it, I remembered that we had some chicken thighs in the freezer and half a can of coconut milk in the fridge from last Sunday.  Better to go ahead and use it, and use it I did.

I changed the recipe some, but not a lot.  The package of chicken in the freezer only weighed a pound, so I cut most of the ingredients on the list in half.  I wasn't about to go hunting for one stalk of lemon grass if lime juice was already on the list, and I don't have any allspice berries, shallots macadamia nuts, so those items were left out.  (I did use extra red onion and substitute some salted cashews for the macadamia nuts in case they made a difference in the texture - not sure if they did or not.) 

The rice in the picture is brown rice, not jasmine.  I think I've finally figured out the right proportion of water to rice (2:1) and length of time (40 minutes) so that I no longer have to check it every few minutes while the rest of the food is done.  It cooked in roughly the same length of time as the chicken, which worked out well.  And the chicken was good too!  Anyone who's curious to try it or a variation might also like the chicken just with the marinade, but with more marinade (it didn't seem to go very far when I brushed it onto the chicken).  It probably also would have been good with everything but the coconut milk and powder, or maybe with a substitution of tomato sauce.

That's all for tonight.   Enjoy what remains of the weekend!

More Trial and Error with Cookies

Yesterday was cold and rainy, so I chickened out of an 8-mile group run and stayed inside to make more cookies.

This was a bit of an odyssey, since I've never really made cookies with visual appeal in mind.  I mean, it's the holidays, and if it looks like a cookie, people are gonna eat it, right?

I should have been able to predict the result, since I'm not artistically inclined and, until yesterday, had never cut out or decorated a cookie before in my life.  Sure, I can mix the ingredients together, throw them in the oven and take them out when the timer goes off, but decorating's another story.

The recipe for the cookies themselves worked out well, and I'll probably use it again or something very much like it, whether I decide to ice them again or not.  The orange extract was something I picked up by mistake a couple of weeks ago but still wanted to use, so it went into the cookie dough in place of vanilla.

Orange star cookies
1 stick butter, cubed
2/3 cup of sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp soy flour mixed with 2 tbsp water (egg substitute)
1 tsp orange extract
5 tbsp milk
2 cups flour

This followed the usual cookie drill - cream the butter and sugar, add the rest except for the flour and combine, then add the flour about 1/2 cup at a time.  Roll into a cylinder, wrap in plastic wrap, then into the fridge for at least an hour. 

When I casually mentioned to Steve a couple of weeks back that I might try my hand at decorated cutout cookies this holiday season, he went out and bought a couple of sets of cookie cutters along with the usual stash of groceries.  One set consists of a snowflake, mitten and cap, and the other has different-sized stars.  I decided to start with one shape only, so I could at least decorate them all the same, so I went with the second-smallest star.

The Country Cook, also a friend from back home (hey Brandie!), recently advised using wax paper for rolling out cookie dough.  This worked out well, especially since I discovered just as it was time to get to work that we don't have a rolling pin in the house and I was going to have to improvise with an iced tea glass. 

The cutting out and baking (350 degrees, 10 minutes) were easy enough.

Then it came time to ice these bad boys.

I used this recipe for the icing but had to change it up a little.  The wet ingredients weren't enough for the powdered sugar, so I added one teaspoon each of milk and corn syrup (regular, not light).  I used orange extract in place of the vanilla.  The orange color was achieved with one drop of red food coloring and two of yellow.

Holy orange, Batman!  Steve and I both sampled it and were reminded of a mandarin orange candy from childhood.  What a difference the extract made - so glad I used it instead of orange juice!

In terms of decorating, I figured I'd try to emulate the cookies pictured at the link for the icing recipe, except that I had the ill-advised idea of also icing the cookies in the side.  So I made the icing recipe all over but used lemon juice (3 teaspoons) in place of the milk, no vanilla or extract and a couple of drops of yellow food coloring.  Another winner in terms of the taste, but...

I guess I was expecting the icing to dry a little harder, but these suckers were messy to ice, even with one of those piping things, and messy to handle after they'd had a while to sit and dry out on the parchment paper.  Also, I ran out of the lemon icing before I was done, so some of these only have the orange icing.

Oh, well.  It was still a nice way to spend a cold, drizzly Saturday, and my hungry co-workers will be getting another surprise on Monday.

Have a nice Sunday and enjoy the sunshine!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta with White Beans

I'd been thinking about making something like this since before my last cold.  Whenever I see spinach and artichoke dip on a restaurant or bar menu, I think, "Mmm, spinach.  Mmm, artichoke hearts.  Cream cheese, mayo, sour cream...blech."  If they just put the spinach, artichokes and some melted Parmesan on some chips and put that in the oven for 10 minutes, I'd be a much bigger fan of the dip (even though it wouldn't really be a dip anymore).  And since we always have a bag of spinach in the fridge and a can or two of artichoke hearts in the cupboard, I finally took it upon myself to give this dish a whirl after a happy little 3-mile run through the neighborhood. 

I was also in the mood for something like a cassoulet, hence the Great Northern beans.

2 tbsp Earth Balance
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk (2%)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
8 oz. orzo pasta
6 oz. fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped
1 can artichoke hearts, drained (about 7 artichoke hearts)
1 can (15 oz.) Great Northern Beans, drained
1 cup freshly grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small saucepan, heat Earth Balance over medium-low heat until melted.  Stir in flour slowly, smoothing out any lumps.  Once it is all combined, gradually stir in the milk until incorporated.  Add salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Simmer, stirring often (don't let it burn on the bottom of the pan) until thickened, about 20 minutes.  Stir in 1/2 cup of Parmesan and stir until melted.

While the sauce is cooking down, cook the orzo according to package directions (about 9 minutes), drain and set aside (covered).

While the sauce and orzo are doing their thing, rinse and chop the spinach, drain and chop the artichoke hearts and drain the can of beans.

When the sauce and orzo are ready, combine them in the pot containing the orzo.  Add the spinach, artichoke hearts and beans and stir well.

Grease a breadloaf-sized baking dish (or use a nonstick pan) and spoon the mixture into the dish.  Top with the remaining Parmesan cheese and bake for 30 minutes.  Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serves 4

This turned out really well, but I may experiment with it in the future to see if it could be made even better.  I'm wondering if adding salt and pepper to the spinach and wilting it first would have added to the flavor.  Another suggestion that Steve had was to use white wine.  Hmm...we shall see...

Everyone have a great weekend, and I look forward to seeing some of you at Strictly Running in the morning!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wicked Spicy Chicken and White Bean Soup

I went running at Riverfront Park after work - 39 degrees with a breeze when I started, and it cooled down after the sun set.  Thankfully, I had my iPod to keep me company for 6 miles.

Here's what I listened to, in order.  Can you tell I had it set to Shuffle?

Enuff Z'Nuff "Fly High Michelle"
Erykah Badu "On and On"
John Mellencamp "Check It Out"
Stevie Wonder "Living for the City"
Beastie Boys "Intergalactic"
ELO "Strange Magic"
MC Solar "Le Nouveau Western"
O Brother, Where Art Thou "Man of Constant Sorrow"
Naughty By Nature "Hip Hop Hooray"
Outkast "Hey Ya"
Peter Gabriel "Sledgehammer"

I really needed those last couple of songs to be as fast as they were - it was cold!

A much-needed shower warmed me back up as soon as I got home, as did the soup that took care of the last two bell peppers from this year's garden, half a Piggly Wiggly chicken, half a bunch of cilantro and a serrano pepper.  This is loosely based on Paula Deen's White Bean Chili, but I didn't feel like dirtying the blender to thicken it up if I could do this in two pots (one for the bouillon, one for the rest) and be done with it.

Wicked Spicy Chicken and White Bean Soup
2 tbsp canola oil
2 green bell peppers, diced
1 serrano pepper (seeds and all), diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground oregano
1/2 tsp salt
4 cups chicken broth
1 (15 oz.) can Great Northern beans, drained
Chicken thigh meat, deboned and diced
1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

Heat oil in pot over medium heat.  Add next six ingredients, stir well and saute for 3-5 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients, cover and reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer until soup is bubbly, about 15 minutes.

For those who aren't familiar, serranos are a little bit hotter than jalapenos.  This is the wicked hot part of this soup.  In fact, Steve said as he was eating it that it could be served in a Thai restaurant.  If your heat breaks down this winter, make this soup - it'll warm you up!  Normally I have seconds when soup's for dinner, but one bowl was all I could take.  I'll have to take some bread or something with the soup for lunch tomorrow.

Stay warm everybody!

First cookies of the holiday season

I decided to do a little baking mid-afternoon yesterday, since I had the day off from work and today's the day of the big holiday lunch at work.  The day of the gathering is also a nice festive day for bringing in other goodies from home for nearby co-workers to enjoy.  And I never do baked goods at any other time of the year, so I try to make the most of it.  This year's first effort involved what should have been dulce de leche thumbprint cookies.

I don't know...maybe this blogger's Kitchen Aid is able to perform miracles that my lowly hand-held mixer can't, but the first five ingredients were way too crumbly to qualify as cookie dough once they were all "combined."  As a food allergy sufferer, I love the idea of an eggless cookie, but I couldn't help thinking that an egg or two would have softened the rest to where the flour would actually blend like it was supposed to.  With this recipe, nothing doing.  I ended up adding (in place of eggs) two tablespoons of soy flour mixed with two tablespoons of water.  When that didn't do the trick, I added four tablespoons (two at a time) of milk.  With that, I had actual cookie dough.

I also didn't leave them in for 20 minutes because it seemed like I would have been asking for burnt cookies.  15 minutes was plenty for each tray.  And the thumbprints added before putting the cookies in the oven did not come back as the cookies cooled.  In fact, I tried to re-thumbprint them when the cookies were most of the way cool and actually felt them springing back.  It wasn't the end of the world - you can still top cookies with whatever you wanted to use as thumbprint filling.  In this case, it was just the dulce de leche (fancy talk for caramel if you don't speak Spanish) over about half a teaspoon of chopped walnuts.  The walnuts just seemed more Christmassy than the sea salt.  And seriously, people - designer salt?

As of this post I have no idea how the cookies will be received at work, although if at least one co-worker skipped breakfast, I'm sure they'll all be gone by lunch.  I did taste one of the less attractive ones before adding the dulce de leche, and they're nice and soft.

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sweet potato and spinach praram

This post is short and sweet because it concerns a recipe I actually made without tweaks.  Said recipe was previously posted by my new favorite food blogger, the BrokeAss Gourmet.  I just happened to have a couple of sweet potatoes that didn't get used over Thanksgiving, and between this, the steady supply of fresh spinach in our house and the availability of at least half the other ingredients, I only had to go out and buy 6 or 7 things in order to make it. 

Not exactly what I'd call "brokeass" - in leaner, hungrier times, when my weekly grocery budget was $25, I wouldn't have spent $13 on groceries for 2-3 meals worth of food.  And I don't know where BrokeAss shops, but I paid $3 for several items that were priced at $2, and I don't think I've ever seen a 6 oz. can of coconut milk.  That would be my preference, too, since every can I get is 13-14 ounces and any recipe I use typically only needs 6-8 ounces.  Oh, well.  At least there were enough basic ingredients left over tonight that I'll be able to make this again within a week.  That's the brokeass life as I know it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mattar paneer

Second cooking experience with the new stovetop.  I was so glad to finally get around to this!  It was also good to use up the paneer, which I was tired of looking at in the cheese drawer in the fridge.

I used this recipe with a few adjustments.  The yogurt seemed like overkill (didn't have any anyway).  I used cayenne pepper instead of the green chilies I didn't have and canola oil in place of the ghee I never buy.  I didn't have any cilantro ("chopped coriander leaves") so I skipped that, although this is one recipe where it really would have added to the flavor.  Also, I couldn't see using garam masala as a garnish, so I just stirred it in before covering it and letting it simmer.

Any vegans out there could just as easily use cubed tofu instead of the paneer in this and any other paneer recipe.  I kinda wish I had myself, since I'm coming down with something and try to avoid dairy products when I have a cold.  Oh, well.  Some of the soup from Saturday is still in the fridge; hopefully it will get me through the next day or so...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Occasional Vegetarian Gets a New Oven

So, the self-cleaning oven with flat-top range that Steve found on sale on Home Depot's website last week arrived while I was at work Friday morning.  Thankfully, Steve was here to let them in and make sure they leveled it right.

Check it out - it even has that new oven smell!

So guess what I did to christen it, even though I still had three turkey and stuffing leftover meals in the freezer?

Chickpea Soondal and Kale Pitas

The chickpea soondal recipe is in Healthy South Indian Cooking, and I reheated the last of the kale from the other night to fill out the pitas with some greenery.  I've only made the soondal once or twice before (in the four years I've had this cookbook) and usually served it with rice and one other veggie side dish, but this was the quickest and easiest thing to whip up, since nothing needed to be chopped for it and the kale and pita were there and ready to go.

1 can chickpeas
1 tbsp canola or corn oil
1 dried red chili pepper
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chutney powder
1 tsp minced fresh ginger root (I used ginger paste from the Indian grocery store)
1/4 cup powdered unsweetened coconut (also from the Indian grocery store, along with all the spices)

Drain the chickpeas, rinse and set aside.

Heat the oil in a saucepan or skillet over medium heat.  When oil is hot, but not smoking, stir in red chili pepper, black mustard seeds and urad dal.  Fry until mustard seeds burst (listen for popping sound) and urad dal is golden.  (The cookbook says to cover the pot at this point, but I often forget to check things while I'm chopping and end up burning the urad dal and whatever else is in there.  Better to leave it uncovered where I can see that the urad dal are browning.)

Immediately add chickpeas, turmeric, salt and chutney powder and mix well.  Add ginger and cook for another minute or two.

Add coconut and stir.  Remove from heat and serve.

The kale went in the microwave for 1 minute and 15 seconds, sliced the pita in half and then filled the pita pockets in layers starting with the soondal, since it was dryer and would help retain any liquid from the kale.

As you can see, I was so hungry by the time it was ready (oven/range photos taken at 1:03, before I started cooking) I almost forget to take the picture.

I also made this on the slow-cooker, so I'd have it when I got home from yoga.  The yoga didn't happen and this took longer than I expected, but it still made a nice, warm lunch today:

North African-Inspired Stew

They used to make this one soup sometimes at Smith, called North African Vegetable Stew, that had chickpeas, potatoes, zucchini, carrots, onions and a ton of spices.  Well, I had the chickpeas, onions and carrots, but I had to substitute sweet potatoes for regular potatoes and frozen yellow squash for the zucchini.  I was hell-bent on clearing out the cupboards and some of the produce that didn't become part of Thanksgiving dinner, so although I would have preferred it the usual way, this at least cleared out some ingredients with nothing better to do and, I hope, improved my chi a bit.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, diced

2 cans chickpeas, drained
4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 bag (8 oz?) frozen yellow squash
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1.5 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Saute the onions in olive oil until translucent.  Add to the crock pot with the remaining ingredients and 8 cups of water.  Cover and simmer on low for 12 hours.

I enjoyed a bowl of this while Steve was outside raking pine straw, and he came in later and enjoyed some too.  Since he picked up some more spinach at Food Lion today, I'm thinking that at least one near-future lunch or dinner will be of the soup-and-salad variety.

Dinner will probably be out of the town tonight.  More later about fun with my new appliance.  Thanks, as always, for reading, and "Go Gamecocks!"

Friday, December 3, 2010

After Thanksgiving

As you can imagine from reading my previous post, I had tons of leftovers after Thanksgiving. So, I didn't cook for almost a week except for making a pot of turkey noodle soup (Steve's suggestion). This was more work than it sounds like.

It actually started on Thursday, with Steve expertly removing most of the flesh from the carcass with the handy dandy electric carving knife.

Next, I set the carcass in the new big crock pot (go office freecycle table!) with 8 cups of water and simmered it on low for about a day and a half - Thursday evening to Saturday lunch.

Obviously, there was no need to cook on Friday - leftovers out the proverbial wazoo.

Saturday I chopped up 3-4 cups of the remaining dark meat and added that to a soup pot already containing two sauteed carrots, one sauteed onion and some garlic. Then I strained the contents of the crock pot (with a great big mesh splatter guard) into the soup pot and added orzo pasta and a little salt and pepper. A few minutes before serving, I stirred in about half a cup of chopped fresh parsley from the backyard.

This was really tasty, but I wonder now if I should have skimmed off the fat from the soup, because the leftovers were kinda gelatinous and weird. With the first leftover helping, I added water because it appeared to need it. Fail - way too thin. The next couple of times I reheated it, I put it in the microwave just like it was and let the fat melt down on its own. It really warmed us up!

Since then, all I've really done is cook up the remaining bunch of kale and some lentils. Thursday night's dinner was a replay of the tuna bacon spinach pasta that used up another big bag of fresh spinach. We had to substitute capicola because Publix hasn't had the pancetta in a while; apparently, their supplier hasn't either. Maybe I'll have to start walking across the parking lot to the Fresh Market?