Thursday, July 28, 2011

Share and Share Alike

Just like everybody else, last week I did all that I could to avoid dealing with the heat wave, so I took extreme measures by planning a long weekend at a friend's house in the Hamptons. (OK, I actually had planned the weekend well in advance of knowing that there would be extreme weather to avoid, but it dovetailed nicely.) Instead of standing on the subway platform with sweat pouring down my body from my neck to my shins, I read magazines in the pool. Not BY the pool. IN the pool. It was totes relaxing. And even though it was still hot out east, due to some very comfortable A/C, baking was not out of the question.

My little friends, F & A, demand that we bake EVERY time that I see them, and over this long, hot weekend we managed three recipes: peanut butter cookies, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and cowboy cookies. This was my first time making cowboy cookies, but they were a hit, particularly the name. As modern bakers, we decided to be all inclusive, so called them cowgirl cookies as well.

We left out the coconut and nuts (walnuts or pecans) that the recipe often calls for. I asked my small baker friends about the add-ins and they decided that no, they didn't like those ingredients, so chocolate chips and peanut butter chips took center stage. They were delish. And just so you know, we didn't personally eat all of the cookies that we made. Of course we
tried them all, but we know how to share.

Cowboy (and GIRL!) Cookies
(Adapted from

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter chips, optional
1/2 cup shredded coconut, optional
1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts or pecans, optional

1. Whisk the flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend.

2. Using an electric mixer (or stand mixer or wooden spoon), beat the butter and both sugars in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla, beating to combine. Add the dry ingredients and beat until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips and peanut butter chips, coconut, and nuts, if using. It is recommended to cover the dough and chill 1 hour before baking, but can also be baked immediately. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let soften slightly before continuing.)

3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Form the dough into balls, using about 1/4 cup dough for each. Place on baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Flatten with your hand to form 3 1/2-inch rounds. Bake 10 minutes, then rotate the sheets. Bake until the cookies are golden brown around edges and firm in center, about 4 minutes longer. Cool on sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool completely. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.) Makes about 24 cookies.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Heat of the Moment

I've been on this crazy cleaning-slash-organizing tear through my apartment. After seven years in a tiny homestead, it's become time to toss out all of the crap and to get super organized with what remains. My plan was to just go through my closets, but at the urging of a friend, I attacked ALL of my kitchen cabinets too. An episode of Hoarders could totally have been filmed...

Living in such a small space requires creative storage solutions, and unfortunately I am now one of those people who stores their over sized pots and pans in the oven. I always wondered who those crazy people were, and now I know. They're me. (Stay with me. This IS going somewhere.)

The thing is, once you store things in surprising places, you have to actually remember that you did. Like, when you turn your oven up to 400+ degrees, like, when you're making scones or something, you might not want to leave certain pans in the broiler that have been layered with rubbery/plastic like substances to protect them from scratches. Scratches won't mean much to you once the plastic has melted and glued your nice Le Creuset frying pan to your $3.99 quarter sheet pan. (Oh, yes. That happened!)

Fortunately I am crafty and figured out how to separate my pans (low heat to soften said plastic material) and how to remove a charred substance from the face of my frying pan (water/vinegar/baking soda/heat). How did I even discover this whole mess? Only when I decided to roast a bunch of yellow peppers in my broiler but found a modernist kitchen pan sculpture in the way. But all's well that ends well. I only lost the cheapie pan and still managed to make dinner.

My first pepper pasta dish was made for a True Blood post last year and used red peppers that were simply sauteed. This recipe uses yellow peppers that have been roasted,* but the recipes are pretty interchangeable. You can even use roasted peppers from a jar. But if you decide to make your own, just make sure that you haven't stashed any winter sweaters in the oven before you turn it on.

*TO ROAST: Cut the peppers in half lengthwise, remove the stems and seeds, place them cut side down on a sheet pan, and place them under the broiler until the skins turn completely black. Once cool enough to handle, remove the charred skin and cut the peppers into strips.)

Pasta With Roasted Peppers and Goat Cheese
(Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup thinly sliced roasted sweet peppers (from a jar or homemade, see above)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large basil leaves, cut in slivers (optional)
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
3/4 pound pasta, any shape

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add the garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the sliced roasted peppers, and stir together for about a minute. Season with salt and pepper, and stir in the basil (if using) and the goat cheese. Remove from the heat.

2. When the water comes to a boil, cook the pasta until al dente — firm to the bite — following the recommendations on the package. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water into the frying pan, and stir well so that the goat cheese begins to melt. Drain the pasta, and toss immediately with the pepper mixture in the pan. (You can place the pan over low heat if the pepper mixture needs to be rewarmed.) Serves four.

Advance preparation: You can make this through Step 1 several hours before you wish to serve it. Add the basil and cheese only when you reheat it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Truly Cherry Pies

Remember crazy Maryann and her hold over Tara? And when she had taken over Sookie's house, Tara and Eggs ate a bloody souffle? Season two was a while ago...yet is the inspiration for this True Blood cherry pie post. And now Eric has finally lost his memory! Out with the old, in with the new!

Sour Cherry Mini-Pies with Brown Butter Almond Crumble

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

One Basic Pie Crust for a 9-inch pie, store bought or homemade

For the Brown Butter Almond Crumble:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2/3 cup whole oats, ground to a flour in a food processor
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup unsalted whole almonds, coarsely ground in a food processor

For the Sour Cherry Filling:
2 ¼ pounds fresh sour cherries, pitted, or 2 pounds frozen sour cherries, partially thawed
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1. Roll the chilled pie dough into a 12-inch round. Cut out 6 (5-inch) circles. (You might have to re-roll some of the scraps.) Place each of the 5-inch rounds into 6 individual (4-inch) tart pans with removable bottoms. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes, or place in the freezer for bout 15 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Make the brown butter for the crumble: Heat the butter in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat until the milk solids on the bottom are dark brown, about 6 minutes. Stir while the butter is melting to encourage the browning. You will know when the butter is ready by the nutty smell and the foam starting to recede. Transfer the brown butter to a medium heat-proof bowl to cool, making sure to scrape all of the browned bits on the bottom of the pan into the bowl. Set aside.

3. Make the sour cherry filling: Combine the cherries, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl, set aside.

4. When the brown butter has cooled a bit, add all of the remaining crumble ingredients. Stir to combine, and then use your hands to encourage clumps.

5. Assemble the pie: Remove the prepared pie tins from the refrigerator or freezer. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cherries to the chilled pie crust. Spread them out and pack them down lightly with the spoon. Pour the remaining juices evenly over the cherries.

6. Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly over the cherries. Transfer the pie tins to a baking sheet. Bake the mini pies in the oven for about 50 minutes, or until the juices are thick and bubbling up through the crumble topping. Remove to a wire rack and cool to room temperature before serving. Makes 6 mini-pies or
one (9-inch) pie.