Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Ultimate Procrastination

So, instead of starting the loads of reading I have to catch up on for school, I decided to make sandwich cookies. I made the dough last night and stuck it in the fridge as a flattened disk. This morning, I woke up, thought about all the work I had to do and, instead of telling myself the cookie dough could stay in the fridge for a couple of days, probably, I decided to start rolling and baking. I just took the last batch out of the oven about five minutes ago.

These are your average butter cookies, made with simple ingredients: organic butter, organic unbleached white flour, organic free range egg, vanilla, baking powder. However, instead of using traditional white sugar (which I ingest too much of anyway), I used agave nectar, which has the same amount of calories as sucrose but you need less to achieve the same level of sweetness.
Also, it is far less refined than white sugar.

The recipe for the cookies is as follows:
1 1/2 stick butter
2/3 c agave nectar (or less, even)
1 egg
2 c flour
1/2 t baking powder
pinch salt

Cream butter in bowl. Add agave and continue to cream with butter. When fluffiness is achieved, add your egg, and beat until fluffy again. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, BP, and salt. Add dry mixture to wet, and combine. Mixture will be sticky but that's okay.
Line a medium bowl with 2 pieces of plastic wrap-- place one piece across and hanging over bowl, place the other piece perpendicularly over first. You'll want these pieces of plastic wrap to each be quite long.
Put the dough into the plastic wrap-lined bowl. Wrap! This is an easy method for wrapping dough in plastic.
Flatten dough into a circular disk, and put it in the fridge for a few hours (I left it overnight).
Similarly, you can shape the dough into a log and wrap it in parchment paper, and stick it in the fridge or freezer for later use.

When you're ready to use the dough, preheat oven to 350 if it's a convection oven, 375 if not. Flour a work surface, take out disk, and roll it out.
If you're going to try to make sandwich cookies, I think a dainty thinness works wonderfully. That is, thin enough to very delicately scrape up from work surface and onto parchment paper of pan without ripping (quite thin, about an 1/8 of an inch or so). With a cookie cutter or a drinking glass, or even a jar lid, cut out as many cookies as you can.
If they are sandwich cookies, some of these new circles will be the bottoms, some will be the tops. You can have identical tops and bottoms or you can cut out a smaller circle in the tops, so that you can see the filling, as in the pictures of the ones I made.
Keep in mind you can probably roll this dough out and cut cookies from it about three times, so try to get it as right as possible the first time, but if you don't, you have a few more tries left.
Once you've gotten all the circles out of your dough as possible, bake for about 7-10 minutes a pan. These bake really quickly and so you've gotta keep an eye on them or they'll burn.

Now. As for fillings. Anything you want!
You can use store-bought jam if you'd like, or you can whip up a batch of lemon curd (YUM!). Another option is chocolate ganache, which you can also make by placing chocolate pieces in a double boiler along with a little bit of cream or milk, stirring till melted.
I opt for the lemon curd, recipe as follows, for a really great lookin little cookie:

zest of five lemons, juice of three of those lemons- don't worry about seeds
4 egg yolks, 1 whole egg (you can save the whites for later-- egg white omelets? meringues?)
1 c sugar
3 T butter, cut into about 8 little cubes

In a small saucepan, whisk together egg and sugar on low heat. After a couple of minutes, add lemon zest and juice. Stir. Add butter, cube at a time, stirring until melted. You should be stirring the whole time. Leave on low-medium heat and gently stir until mixture thickens a bit. You can tell if it's done by if it coats the back of a wooden spoon. If yes, you're golden.
At this point, pour mixture through a sieve, into a bowl. Either place bowl in ice bath (if you have low patience) or cover with plastic wrap and stick in the fridge until cooled.

Once cool, you may spread this delicious goo onto cookies, and cover with tops.
Leftover lemon curd makes an excellent breakfast topping for scones or toast.

And now you have great sandwich cookies!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Welcome! And Lycopene!

Hey there, Blogosphere!
I hope you enjoy reading and replicating many recipes I hope to post in the coming months. As my first post ever, I'd like to begin by introducing myself and talking a little bit about my influences and goals.
As an herbivore, I do consume meat when I have access to high quality product. For me, high quality meat must be local and/or organic. The more sustainable the meat, the more likely I am to buy, cook, or eat it. When I was living in San Francisco, finding local and organic animal products was a cinch. I knew where to go to buy the best quality animal products around. However, I recently moved to New York for graduate school, and am faced with the both daunting and exciting task of exploring and finding new hot spots for great produce and meat.
Even though I do eat meat and recognize the benefits of animal products to the human body, when I cook, I tend to find my creative juices flow more freely when I cook vegetarian meals. Something about using only fruits and vegetables turns me on. I just can't explain it, but it might have something to do with my obsession with holistic health.
Being able to cook up a meal of fresh seasonal and local veggies is exciting!
It makes me feel grounded no matter where I am. It connects me to the earth in a very real way.
And so tonight I would like to share with my readership a very simple soup for a rainy night (like tonight in New York).
Rain always makes me want to eat soup. And when I crave something, the most fun option is to make it myself.
This recipe is inspired by a soup I used to eat at the Black River Cafe in Oberlin, OH. Also, it should be noted that bell peppers are nearing the end of their season! So if you can, get to your nearest farmer's market and pick some up between now and mid-October, because chances are you won't see them again till summertime.

Red Pepper Puree (4-5 servings)

Equipment: saucepan, cutting board, knife, immersion blender.

1 or 2 T extra virgin olive oil (it's really up to you how much)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped (or more to your liking)
splash or two of dry white wine (or liquid of your choice to deglaze pan)
4 cups red peppers, roughly chopped
few twigs of fresh thyme (dried will be okay but not as good)
1 c water (or stock)
salt and pepper, to taste

Add oil to a medium saucepan on medium heat. When oil is hot, add onions. You can test if it's hot enough by adding one piece of onion first. If it sizzles in the oil, add the rest. Stir these around, and cook for about 5-8 minutes, until onions are translucent, but not brown. Add garlic and deglazing liquid of your choice. Allow ingredients to simmer in saucepan until most of the liquid is evaporated, ~5 min. Now add all of the chopped pepper, thyme, and water. Stir, bring to boil, cover, reduce to low. Allow to simmer 20-40 minutes, or until pepper is soft. At this point, you can remove the saucepan from the heat and use the immersion blender to puree soup. Taste, and add salt and pepper as to your liking!
*Variations include roasting the peppers before chopping on an open flame until skins are charred. Remove skins by placing peppers from flame into brown paper bag or bowl of ice water. Both of these methods help the skin peel. Peel off the rest of the skin, slice each pepper lengthwise, remove seeds, and add to soup. It will not have to cook for as long, this way, either.
**Another variation is to add a bit (start small- maybe one ounce at a time) of good quality blue cheese to the soup before blending. It will make it slightly creamy and add a dimension of flavor.
***One last variation includes toasting slices (one per bowl) of French baguette and placing a dollop of raw goat cheese on top, then placing each crouton on top of soup, just before serving.