Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter Warmer

My dears, I am very happy to share some pretty rockin' news with you - I've been selected as a guest writer on one of my favorite blogs, Not Eating Out in New York. I've written my praises of Cathy Erway's blog. On top of kick-ass recipes with a green slant, she also documents the DIY culinary happenings in the New York area, along with her reasons for lighting up a burner and, well, not eating out in New York. I answered the call to her readership: to offer up an outside defense of home-cooking.

What an appropriate time for this boost of confidence. My warmest thanks for the support of those of you who check up on my little space on the internet. I know you'll all dig Cathy's writing, too, so if you're not already, get yourself familiar with her site. And a special thanks to her for this honor. Oh, I'm all fuzzy inside now. I feel like I should end this with some sort of toast! So, um... Excelsior! Sure.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Santa? Toys? OK! Do That!

Thus quoth my two-year-old niece on the matter of the annual gift-man. Yeah, Santa, do that thang! Inspired by her holiday enthusiasm and her tiny brain's ability to now form simple sentences, I decided to get some holiday baking underway. I tackled chocolate chip cookies, which I've been meaning to bake since the NY Times posted this back in July. The summer heat left me with no desire to fire up a hot oven, and the inspiration has been simmering since sometime right after the fireworks.

The recipe is an amalgamation of a few tried and true ones - healthed up a bit by oatmeal and whole-wheat pastry flour, inherently awesome by the presence of chocolate. I heeded the Times' advice on chilling the dough, something a step I've only ever followed on my mom's peanute butter cookies. But for reals, it made such a difference. The result was a creamier, chewier cookie with a more consistent, vanilla-y flavor. I guess that the idea is that the egg saturates the dough - though I didn't use egg, the liquid egg replacer achieved a similar effect. If you use egg replacer, make sure it's a gooey one like a store-brand or one with a water base. The fruit-and-baking-powder trick doesn't really apply here. And a sprinkling of salt on each dough-drop really plays on the sweetness - but in retaliation, I reduced the salt in the dough ever-so-slightly. And if you make these guys with the egg replacer and spoon some of the dough into your mouth when no one's looking... then no, Virginia, there is no salmonella clause.

Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 1/2 C whole-wheat pastry flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t fine-grain sea salt
1 c cane sugar
1 c brown sugar
1 c soy margarine or organic unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened at room temperature
3 egg replacers or 3 good-quality large eggs (EnerG Egg Replacer)
1 T pure vanilla extract
1 c rolled oats (walnuts or pecans work, too)
12 oz good-quality chocolate chunks (I love Ghirardelli, though it comes from the opposite coast) or 1 package chips

Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the butter with a hand mixer until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar one cup at a time and beat until smooth - the butter should return to that state it was at when you first beat it, but grainy with the presence of the sugar. Add the egg replacer or eggs one at a time and beat until incorporated, pausing to scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and beat in until the brown swirls disappear in the mix. Add the dry ingredient mixture to the bowl one cup at a time, beating until just beat - do not overmix! Pastry dough requires a gentle hand, or else the gluten in the flour become overtaxed and stretchy. Then stir in the oats and the chocolate.

If you can muster the wait...CHILL OVERNIGHT. I know, it's the hard-est part.

Preheat oven to 375. Line two cookie sheets with parchment or wax paper. Drop the dough by a tablespoon onto the sheet, allowing room for the little guys to grow in the oven (about 10 per sheet). Bake for ten minutes, or until just golden on the top. Great cookies are born from not over-baking. Transfer to wire racks and cool.

Yields about 3 dozen cookies.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chili Sin Carne

As I'm writing, I watch pairs of animals waddle, slither, march and trot outside to an unseen destination. We've entered the thirty-sixth straight hour of rain, and the arc is leaving pronto. Me, I'll stay behind. I can probably finish most of my Christmas shopping before the dove swoops down. Actually, I should really finish, like, yesterday. In my enthusiasm for giving (or perhaps overcompensation for a year of frivolity-free shopping), I am way over budget and I'm running my bank account in the ground. But, damn it, I'll enjoy every step of the way to fiscal ruin.

The weather coupled with the my need to pinch some pennies inspired a one-woman chili cook-off today. Canned beans and root veggies are always in my kitchen for just such situations (Broke! Gloomy! Hungry!). I've been craving the stuff anyway, and thought I'd try to put a spin on an old standby. Sweet potatoes are the new cocoa powder to chili ingredients. There are a gazillion sweet potato chili recipes out there, so it's not as edgy and exciting to me as I once thought. But I still love the idea of those golden-sweet tubers rocking out in a bowl of tomato-and-bean-filled goodness. Boston vegans seem to tirelessly rave about the cashew chili at Trident Cafe; though I am nonplussed by it, I love that idea, too, and invited cashews to the party. And oh yes, there is cocoa powder in the mix. It adds a comforting, dark hue to the dish and a mysterious smokiness - and I was sort of out of chili powder.

Sweet Potato and Cashew Chili

olive oil for saute
1 large onion, diced
3 gloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
3 celery stalks, minced
2 or 3 sweets potatoes (about a pound), peeled and diced
1 28oz can diced tomatoes, with the juice
1 15oz can red kidney beans
1 15oz can cannellini beans
2 t cumin
1 t cocoa powder
1/4 t cayenne pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
2 cups water or stock
1/2 c unsalted cashews

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, jalapeno and celery. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes, tomato, beans, cumin, cocoa powder, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and water. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, uncovered. Reduce the heat and simmer for about half an hour, or until the potatoes are tender. In the last five minutes, stir in the cashews (you went them slightly softened, but not mushy). Garnish with cashew pieces. Serves at least 6.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Matters of Great Import

A few observations:

1) Playing bar trivia is always a good way to spend an afternoon.
2) There are few things in creation less attractive than a man naked from only the waist down.
3) There seems to be a great discrepancy in public opinion as the lifespan of leftover pizza.
4) London loves Modest Mouse.

There are a lot of great people writing great things out there. Please, visit the links I've offered and support your independent artists! And food writers in Boston: I want to hear from you.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Post Hoc Detox

Not gonna lie, I'm feeling pretty uninspired lately. Cooking quasi-professionally is a quasi-nightmare, and I haven't been cooking much myself lately. I was still recovering from Thanksgiving when along came December. Not to worry; we've bedazzled our nest with all sorts of sparkly wonderment, so that cheers me up (hear me now, that if we had the disposable income, we'd fully be the creepy house on the block with light-up snowmen, animatronic reindeer and trains that follow an endless circular path to nowhere).

In an effort to detox from the last holiday's revelry, I made this miso soup. Really not much cause to write out a recipe. Miso soup is just a couple cups of water, a couple plops of miso paste, some dried seaweed, some tofu cubes, and scallions. Bring the water, seaweed and tofu to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in the miso and scallions, and yir done, son.