Monday, January 17, 2011

What to Do with Cornmeal

My friend Sarah came to visit last month and brought us a bag of yellow stone-ground cornmeal. Aside from being wrapped in an adorable sack (I'm such a sucker for packaging), the cornmeal has been the star of quite a few meals in our house. I've already made two versions of cornmeal spoon bread, which is a soft, pudding-like corn bread that you, er, eat with a spoon. Both renditions were great, but if you are willing to break out of the corn bread/corn muffin box a little bit, I suggest you try...
Arepas! I made them tonight and they're fantastic! Corn fritters, with a bit of cheese mixed in, arepas are very easy and delicious. I got the recipe from Mark Bittman's awesome Best Recipes in the World, and in the intro Mark says you can serve them for breakfast with scrambled eggs, tomatoes, and onions, or as a side dish with butter. They're a natural accompaniment to Latin food, though I know some people who would probably eat them with almost anything.
Arepas have become a staple at street fairs in New York City, where they are the size of pancakes and made with mozzarella. I made mine small--about the size of a half-dollar (when's the last time you saw one of those, btw?)--and used goat cheese, since I had some on hand. You mix the cornmeal with some salt, grated (or in my case crumbled) cheese, a warm mixture of milk and butter, and some corn kernels, fresh or frozen. You form the dough into little patties, and then fry them in a bit of oil (I used grapeseed), a few minutes per side. Hot off the pan, they are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I topped mine with some sauteed cherry tomatoes and ate them like canapes. Because, you know, I'm fancy like that.

1 c yellow cornmeal
1/2 t salt
1/2 c grated mild Cheddar, Monterey Jack, or mozzarella cheese
1 c milk
2 T butter, plus more for serving
1/2 c fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
3 T corn, grapeseed, or other neutral oil

1. Put the cornmeal in a food processor or blender and grind until fine. Transfer to a large bowl and mix with the salt and cheese.
2. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a steady simmer. Add the butter and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and stir into the cornmeal mixture to form a thick batter. Fold in the corn kernels.
3. Let the batter rest until it thickens into a soft dough, about 15 minutes. Form 1" balls from the mixture and flatten with your palm to 1/4"-thick disks.
4. Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook the arepas, working in batches, until golden brown, about 5 minutes, then flip and cook for 3 minutes on the other side. Serve hot with butter.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Resolve to Make These Blondies

I know: you ate a lot of Christmas cookies. I know: you drank a lot of champagne. And I know: you're supposed to be eating healthy.
But you really should try these Toffee Brown Butter Blondies. They're just so good. I first tasted them at a bake-off (yes, I attend bake-offs occasionally) in 2009. I loved their nutty, almost savory-sweet flavor. So I tracked down the recipe (thanks, Martha) and made them for a barbecue last summer. I was a little nervous about making sure the butter was browned and had developed a nice hazelnut-y flavor, yet wasn't burnt--but I kept an eye on it, and it turned out just fine. I also cut them into diamond shapes (I learned how here), which somehow makes them seem more sophisticated than your average blondie (the camera angle here doesn't really do their shape justice). In addition to the nutty flavor of browned butter, these blondies are enhanced with bits of chopped walnuts and chopped toffee.
I made them again for a baby shower recently, and well, let's just say that I was very glad that cutting the blondies into diamond shapes results in a fair amount of "outtakes," i.e., odd-shaped pieces that you might not want to place on a dessert platter for guests, but that are just perfect for nibbling.
Make these blondies! Do it!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

What to Make for Your Next Cocktail Party

Dorie Greenspan's new book, Around My French Table, has been stalking me for months now. First, I got invited to a press luncheon for the book in July. It was at Blue Hill and we ate pea soup, Hudson Valley duck, and cheesecake. Everything was delicious. Then, I wrote a story about the book's somewhat surprising success, considering the fact that Dorie Greenspan doesn't have a TV show or food magazine, yet her book is one of the year's most popular (and bestselling) cookbooks. And then I went to a party for a cookbook "tournament" last week, where I met Dorie and ate one of her delicious sable cookies (in a piglet shape, natch).
Can you believe I STILL had not tried one of the recipes in her book?
So tonight, I finally took the plunge. And, unsurprisingly, it was a smash hit. Dorie's Gougères are fabulous. They are cheese puffs, and they are airy and cheesy, a little crunchy and even a tiny bit creamy. They were a cinch to make (I really had no reason to be nervous, but I was, I think because they're just so... French). I used an aged cheddar, and followed her instructions exactly, even the quirky step of putting them into an oven you've preheated to 425, but then dropping the temperature to 375 once they're in. Who knows why. It works.
We enjoyed the gougères with some chilled Muscadet. Even our baby got her hands on some and loved them (poor thing is used to eating puffs of a different sort--flavored with spinach and banana).
What will be next from Dorie's book? Elsewhere in the "Nibbles and Hors D'oevures" chapter I have my eye on Savory Cheese and Chive Bread. But her main dishes and, of course, desserts look amazing, too. Sorry it took me so long!--S


1/2 cup milk
1/2 c water
8 T unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 t salt
1 c all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 c coarsely grated cheese, such as Gruyere or cheddar

1. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 425 F. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
2. Bring the milk, water, butter, and salt to a rapid boil in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over high heat. Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to medium-low, and immediately start stirring energetically with a wooden spoon or heavy whisk. The dough will come together and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring--with vigor--for another minute or two to dry the dough. The dough should now be very smooth.
3. Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or into a bowl that you can use for mixing with a hand mixer or a wooden spoon and elbow grease. Let the dough sit for a minute, then add the eggs one by one and beat, beat, beat until the dough is thick and shiny. Make sure that each egg is completely incorporated before you add the next, and don't be concerned if the dough separates--by the time the last egg goes in, the dough will come together again. Beat in the grated cheese. Once the dough is made, it should be spooned out immediately.
4. Using about 1 T of dough for each gougere, drop the dough from a spoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of puff space between the mounds.
5. Slide the baking sheets into the oven and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 375 F. Bake for 12 minutes, then rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom. Continue baking until the gougeres are golden, firm, and yes, puffed, another 12 to 15 minutes or so. Serve warm, or transfer the pans to racks to cool.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Not That There's Anything Wrong with Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Oatmeal raisin cookies = classic. Always good. Comforting.
Try swapping out the raisins for dried cherries. Add almonds and almond extract. And chocolate chips? Now we're talking!
The recipe for Cherry-Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies was the first recipe I tried from the new Bon Appetit Desserts cookbook, which is one of those doorstop numbers that could possibly be the only dessert book you'd ever need. And it's certainly off to a good start with this recipe, which is your typical drop cookie recipe, just with a couple of twists.
With something as simple as an oatmeal cookie, replacing raisins with cherries and slipping in some homey chocolate chips and slightly sophisticated almonds is a very nice touch. It got me thinking about some other combos that might be tasty:
Candied ginger + pistachio?
Dried apricots + macadamia nuts?
Figs + hazelnuts?
You could really go, er, nuts here! But for now I'm quite content to enjoy the cherry almond combo. I gave a bag of them to some friends who just had a baby and they seemed to love them. But I'll admit it: I'm glad the bag only held about two-thirds of the whole batch.

Cherry-Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

1 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
10 T (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c (packed) dark brown sugar (I used light; no biggie)
1 large egg
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract
1 c old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 c semisweet chocolate chips
1 c dried tart cherries (they seemed large so I cut them in half)
1/2 c slivered almonds, toasted (I used sliced almonds)

1. Position1 rack in center and 1 rack in top third of oven and preheat to 325 F. Line 2 heavy large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars in large bowl until well blended. Mix in egg and both extracts. Beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats, then chocolate chips, cherries, and almonds.
3. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 2" apart. Bake cookies 12 minutes. Reverse baking sheets and continue to bake cookies until golden, about 6 minutes longer. Cool cookies on baking sheets (cookies will firm as they cool).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A New Look at Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

I approached this year's meal a bit differently than usual. Don't get me wrong; I'm always focused on the food at Thanksgiving. But this year, with a 10-month-old baby grabbing at every morsel she could get her little hands on, I realized just how wonderful and varied the Thanksgiving meal is.

Our daughter got her greens via stracciatella soup with spinach and cut-up pieces of green beans from a green bean casserole. She savored small bites of rosemary garlic parmesan biscuits. She puckered up for my homemade cranberry sauce and, of course, wiped out her favorite food on the table: pureed sweet potatoes (this version doctored up with apple juice concentrate, brown sugar, and butter). She ate our family's Italian dishes, soufrite (sausage, peppers, & chicken) and Nonna's stuffing (ground beef, raisins, & rice). She had a few shreds of turkey, though, like me, she preferred the sides. When dessert arrived, she happily dug in to pumpkin pie (the filling), tasted a bite of a gingerbread cheesecake square, and had a few apples from my apple tart, and licked whipped cream off her dad's finger.

Of course I can't remember my first Thanksgiving. But watching my daughter enjoy hers was even better.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Scone Kick

I'm on something of a scone kick, because making scones requires buying buttermilk, and what else does one do with a half-empty container of buttermilk but make more scones? While the last batch were straight-up decadent, the scones I made this weekend are more of a "healthy" scone. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but when we're talking scones, if they have a bit of whole wheat flour and some oatmeal in them, I say they count as healthy.

Oatmeal Nutmeg Scones are from Dorie Greenspan's (if you haven't seen her latest cookbook, Around My French Table, I highly recommend it!) classic Baking, a reference that has always given me great baked goods. Dorie (if I may) calls them "tender and sweet," and that's quite accurate. They crumble easily and aren't so sweet that they can't handle a dab of apricot preserves on top. They're pretty ideal scones, actually., lovely for breakfast or an any-time-of-day snack. (And I've still got more buttermilk, so my kick can continue.)--S

Oatmeal Nutmeg Scones

1 large egg
1/2 c cold buttermilk
1 2/3 c all-purpose flour (I substituted half whole-wheat flour)
1 1/3 c old-fashioned oats
1/3 c sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
1 stick plus 2 T (10 T) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Stir the egg and buttermilk together.

Whisk the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg together in a large bowl. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You'll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between--and that's just right.

Pour the egg and buttermilk mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with a fork just until the dough, which will be wet and sticky, comes together. Don't overdo it.

Still in the bowl, gently knead the dough by hand, or turn it with a rubber spatula 8 to 10 times. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it in half. Working with one piece at a time, pat the dough into a rough circle that's about 5 inches in diameter, cut it into 6 wedges and place on the baking sheet. (At this point, the scones can be frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight. Don't defrost before baking--just add about 2 minutes to the baking time.)

Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until their tops are olden and firmish. Transfer them to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before serving, or wait for the scones to cool to room temperature.

Makes 12 scones.

Recipe courtesy of Baking by Dorie Greenspan

Friday, September 10, 2010

Introducing... the Introduction

As the best cookbook authors know, recipe introductions are way more important than you might think. They situate a recipe, telling you why you should try it, what to watch out for while you're making it, and what you might eat or drink alongside it. And if they're written well, they give you a little insight into the author's personality.

Take, for instance, the new book from Baked authors Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. It's called Baked Explorations and features 75 recipes for "classic American desserts reinvented." This subject practically begs for recipe intros (or "headnotes," as editors call them): why reinvent, say, a New York-style crumb cake? Or chocolate mint thumbprint cookies? Read the intros, and you'll find out.

Which brings me to the the book's Carrot Coconut Scones with Citrus Glaze. Reading the intro--and getting a Tweet from Matt Lewis saying the scones were a big hit with the book's recipe testers--convinced me I had to make them: "I have succumbed to deep self-delusion and equate all carrot baked things with health and nutrition," it says in part. A carrot cake fiend, I immediately identified with this statement. An additional note reads, "the oats and carrot lend an air of nutrition, but deep down this is a perfect treat for morning, noon, and night." Sold, to the lady with the ridiculous sweet tooth who eats oatmeal with candied ginger and cranberries for breakfast.

So these scones: they're outrageously good. And I didn't even make the citrus glaze. I just painted the egg white glaze on them and sprinkled them with sugar. They are sweet but not too sweet. Denser than muffins, but softer and moister than many scones I've had. And divinely textured thanks to the shredded coconut and oats.

Good headnotes are key. They make reading a cookbook fun--and motivate me to carry my cookbooks out of the living room and into the kitchen.--S

Carrot Coconut Scones with Citrus Glaze
Yield: 6 to 8 scones

For the scones:
2 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/2 c rolled oats
1 T baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 c shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 c (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" chunks
1 large egg
3/4 c buttermilk
1 T pure vanilla extract
1/4 c carrot puree (recipe follows)
1 egg white, beaten

For the citrus glaze:
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 T fresh orange juice
1 c confectioners' sugar

Make the scones:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and position the rack in the center. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, oats, baking powder, salt, and shredded sweetened coconut.
3. Add the butter. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until the butter is pea size and the mixture is coarse.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, vanilla and carrot puree. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until the dough just comes together. Gently and briefly knead the dough with your hands. The dough will be sticky and may need to be sprinkled with flour.
5. Roll the dough up, turn it on its end, and gently flatten it into a disk about 1 3/4" high. Do not overwork the dough.
6. Whisk the egg white with 1 T water. Set aside.
7. Cut the dough into 6 or 8 wedges and place the scones on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with the egg white wash. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean. Do not overbake.
8. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool completely. Place the baking sheet, with the parchment still on it, underneath the rack.

Make the citrus glaze:
1. Whisk all ingredients together in a medium bowl. The glaze should be loose enough to drizzle. If it is too thick, add a little more oragne juice. If it is too loose, add a little more confectioners' sugar.
2. Drizzle the glaze over the scones and allow it to set before serving.

To make the carrot puree:
1 medium carrot
1/4 c orange juice

1. Place the carrot and juice in a medium glass microwaveable bowl. Cover or wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
2. Microwave on high for about 5 minutes. If the carrot is fork-tender, it is ready. If it is not fork-tender, continue to microwave in 30-second bursts until it is.
3. Blend (in blender or food processor) the carrot and orange juice until smooth, or alternatively, mash with a potato masher until lump free.