Monday, April 15, 2013

Procrastination (With Extra Virgin Olive Oil)



I do some of my best work when I supposed to be doing something else.

Right now I’m supposed to be reading/correcting galleys for the revised edition of Bittersweet, which will come out in October (provided that I finish reading/correcting). The new title is Seriously Bitter Sweet. I’ve begun to think of it (affectionately) as SERIOUS BS, but we’re not mentioning this to anyone. My deadline is looming.

Otherwise I’m supposed to be testing recipes for yet another new book. My deadline is looming on this as well.

I’m also supposed to be developing a fun recipe for the back of a healthy cereal package. That deadline seems to be staring at me too.

Why, then,  am I trying out a new cookie recipe with extra virgin olive oil?  You tell me.   

HAZELNUT AND OLIVE OIL STICKS 

Extra virgin olive oil and a hint of pepper make these slender crunchy nut cookies extra good. The flavors are subtle but sophisticated— they grow on you. You’ll find yourself eating more of them than you expected to eat. Delicious and interesting. Strawberries should taste good with them, or cup of oolong might be the perfect, but I am much too busy to try either of those. I have deadlines looming.

I shape the dough free form on a sheet of foil before chilling and slicing, but you can use a loaf pan to control the shape if that seems easier. 

Makes about three dozen 4 to 5 -inch cookies.

Ingredients:
2/3 cup (76 grams) raw hazelnuts
1 1/4 cup (160 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons (110 grams) sugar
3/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black or white pepper
6 tablespoons (80 grams) extra virgin olive oil (a lovely evoo from California would be good)
4 teaspoons cold water

Equipment:
Food processor
1 or 2 baking sheets lined with parchment
5 x 9=inch loaf pan, optional

Combine hazelnuts, flour, sugar, salt, and pepper in a food processor, and pulse until the hazelnuts are finely chopped. Drizzle in the olive oil. Pulse until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.  Add the water and pulse just until the mixture resembles damp crumbs---it should not be a smooth mass—but it should stick together when you press it.  Pulse in a bit of extra water if necessary.

If using a loaf pan, line the bottom and sides with foil.  Dump the mixture into the pan and spread it evenly.  Press it very firmly, making a thin layer.  Or, dump the mixture onto a sheet of foil on a baking sheet and distribute it evenly over an area about 4 to 5 inches by 9 to 10 inches. Press it firmly, squaring up the edges, to make an even compact layer about 1/2 inch thick. Fold the foil over the dough and wrap it tightly. Refrigerate for 2 hours or over night.

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Position racks in the upper and lower third of the oven.



Unwrap the dough and transfer it to a cutting board. Use a long sharp knife to cut the dough crosswise, into scant 3/8 inch slices.  Use the knife to transfer the slice and lay it onto the cookie sheet.  Repeat, placing slices 1 inch apart. Slices will be fragile and require the support of the knife in transit.

Bake until cookies are golden brown, 15-18 minutes (time depends on thickness of cookies). Rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back half way through the baking time to ensure even baking.      

Slide the parchment carefully onto a rack or set the pans themselves on a rack to cool. Cool cookies completely before stacking or storing. Cookies may be stored, airtight, for several days.



Friday, March 29, 2013

Bacon Meringues


I was getting tired of seeing and hearing about bacon in every recipe all day every day. The only answer was to try it myself.  These meringues really are good. You might want to cook the whole pound of bacon although the recipe calls for only 10 strips, because (who knows) you might need a snack...

One of my most esteemed tasters says "just pecans and bacon please, hold the chocolate". I see her point, the pecans and bacon are superb with nothing else, but I also like the milk chocolate in there.  Have it your way. Let me know.





BACON PECAN MERINGUES WITH (or without) MILK CHOCOLATE
Something sweet and salty with nuts?  And chocolate?  How can this be wrong?

Makes 36-40 meringues

Ingredients:
Scant 2/3 cup (85 g) crumbled crispy cooked bacon*, cooled
Scant 2/3 cup (60 g) toasted pecans, chopped medium fine
3 ounces milk chocolate, cut in 1/3 inch squares (or ½ cup milk chocolate chips) (optional)
2/3 cup (133 grams) sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

*Thin cut bacon works best, you will need about 10 ounces or 10 strips, before cooking. It should be well cooked, using your favorite method. Once cool check to see if it is mostly crispy; if not, chop to the size of crumbles and re cook briefly in a dry frying pan to render a little more fat. Let cool.



Equipment:
Cookie sheets lined with parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven

Set aside 1/3 of the bacon for the topping.

Mix the remaining bacon with the pecans, chocolate, and two tablespoons of the sugar. Set aside.

Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean dry bowl. Beat at medium-high speed with a heavy-duty stand mixer (or high speed with a hand mixer) until the egg whites are creamy white (instead of translucent) and hold a soft shape when the beaters are lifted.  Continue to beat on medium to high speed, adding the remaining sugar a little at a time, taking 1 1/2 to 2 minutes in all, until the egg whites are very stiff and have a dull sheen. Use a large rubber spatula to fold in the bacon mixture, just until blended.


Drop generous tablespoons of meringue 1 1/2 inches apart on the lined cookie sheets.  Make sure all of the batter fits on the two sheets so all can be baked at once; if necessary make each cookie a little bigger. Sprinkle each meringue with a little pinch of reserved bacon. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.  Remove a test meringue and let it cool completely before taking a bite (meringues are never crisp when hot). If the test meringue is completely dry and crisp, turn off the oven and let the remaining meringues cool completely in the oven.  If the test meringue is soft or chewy or sticks to your teeth, bake for another 15 to 30 minutes before cooling in the oven.

To prevent cookies from becoming moist and sticky, put them in an airtight container as soon as they are cool.  Cookies keep for a few days at least.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

More Meringue Madness


I tasted my first Meringue Glacé decades ago in Castelnaudary, that French town on the Canal du Midi, renowned for its Cassoulet.  I was so full of Cassoulet I should not have even glanced at the dessert menu, but I couldn’t resist the Meringue Glacé.  When it came, what was it anyway?  Plain-as-can-be meringues with plain vanilla ice cream and plain whipped cream (or maybe it was crème fraîche). But it was so good I remember it now, 40 years later.  I’m sure the Cassoulet was nice too, but I don’t recall a a thing about that part of the meal.

The simplest meringue with ice cream and whipped cream still entices me. But I can’t always stop there: a garnish of juicy berries and warm bittersweet chocolate sauce produces even more drama and contrast: hot with cold, creamy with crunchy, sweet with bittersweet. If you turn the meringue into Pavlova, you can also get chewy with gooey!  

I love that meringues—simple cookies or elements of a more complex dessert— are easy make and easy to play with. Over the years, I have tried all kinds of inclusions, treatments, embellishments, and flavors, from bananas to bacon (including bananas and bacon).  Some of my results are amazing (if I do say), others not so much.  

A few of the things I have added to meringues over the decades are:

Espresso powder:  very nice
Nuts, raw or toasted, chopped and/or ground: obviously great
Roasted salted nuts with or w/o chopped milk chocolate: terrific
Thai curry peanuts: not as good as I had hoped
Salt and pepper cashews: not as good as I had hoped
Cocoa power: nice enough
Cocoa nibs: good when lots are added otherwise they  taste bitter and feel gritty
Chopped chocolate: what’s not to love?
Candied citrus peels: dries out and become too hard to chew
Grated citrus peel: dries out and becomes too hard
Pulverized freeze dried fruit: banana (with or without pecans or coconut) was especially good, as was pineapple (with or without coconut) are especially good
Dried jamiaca blossoms (aka jamaica tea): still a work in progress
Amchur powder: interesting
Tahini: yummy
Peanut butter: fantastic, also almond butter, cashew butter etc.
Peanut butter and jam: good, but a little too sweet
Coconut: always great
Bacon with toasted pecans and milk chocolate:  Delish! Recipe to come. 
Organic powdered milk: extremely promising
Saffron: promising, not yet perfected
Chestnut flour: amazing
Carrot chips and/or wasabi peas: ok, I ate them up before I made the meringues-will try again

Many of these things ended up as recipes in books, others are yet to come. I have a long list of other things to try...including pulverized dried mushrooms. 


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chunky Chocolate Coconut Almond Meringues are Not Just for Passover


I hate to limit anything delicious to a specific audience.  I’m afraid that if I label any cookie or dessert “for Passover” or “Gluten Free” people who don’t know from Passover or do not suffer from gluten insensitivity will just turn the page. Meanwhile, even though I normally prefer all kinds of bitter and tart flavors, like super dark chocolate, expresso, pungent olive oil, sour pickles and so forth, I adore meringues and just can't get enough of them. Go figure.  

When you add flakes of coconut, chunks of bittersweet chocolate, salted almonds, and nuggets of creamy coconut white chocolate to melt-in-your-mouth meringues, every bite becomes a riot of creamy with crunchy and chewy, and sweet with salty. These cookies are crazy good (addictive really) just as they are, or you can make them into pretty individual desserts by piling on a little whipped cream and fresh strawberries.  

CHUNKY CHOCOLATE COCONUT ALMOND MERINGUES

Makes 45-50 cookies.

Ingredients:
1 cup (145) roasted salted almonds, coarsely chopped
4 ounces (115 grams) 70% chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger), cut into chunks or 2/3 cup purchased chocolate chunks or chips
3/4 cup (30 grams) unsweetened flaked coconut (coconut chips)
2 ounces (60 grams) Coconut White Chocolate (Lindt), cut into 1/3-inch squares
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (125 grams) sugar
3 egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar


Equipment:
2 cookie sheets lined with parchment paper















Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

For the topping, set aside and toss together 1/4 of the almonds, 1/4 of the dark chocolate, and 1/4 of the flaked coconut.

Mix the remaining almonds, chocolate, and coconut with the coconut white chocolate and 2 tablespoons of the sugar.  Set aside.

Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean dry bowl. Beat at medium-high speed with a heavy-duty stand mixer (or high speed with a hand mixer) until the egg whites are creamy white (instead of translucent) and hold a soft shape when the beaters are lifted.  Continue to beat on medium to high speed, adding the sugar a little at a time, taking 1 1/2 to 2 minutes in all, until the egg whites are very stiff and have a dull sheen. Use a large rubber spatula to fold in the mixture of nuts, coconut, both chocolates, and sugar, just until blended.

Drop generous tablespoons of meringue 1 1/2 inches apart on the lined cookie sheets.  Make sure all of the batter fits on the two sheets so all can be baked at once; if necessary make each cookie a little bigger. Sprinkle each meringue with a little pinch of reserved topping. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.  Remove a test meringue and let it cool completely before taking a bite (meringues are never crisp when hot). If the test meringue is completely dry and crisp, turn off the oven and let the remaining meringues cool completely in the oven.  If the test meringue is soft or chewy or sticks to your teeth, bake for another 15 to 30 minutes before cooling in the oven.















To prevent cookies from becoming moist and sticky, put them in an airtight container as soon as they are cool.  Cookies keep for at least 2 weeks. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Sleepless And Going Bananas


My pal Rick Rodgers www.rickrodgers.com, author of Thanksgiving 101 and too many other cookbooks to count, was in town just in time to escape the devastation back home in New Jersey.  We went to Bar César for lunch yesterday and, since November is still rosé weather in globally-warmer-than-ever Northern California, we each had a glass with our charcuterie and cheese… and then shared a second. We walked around the neighborhood afterwards, checking out the offerings at the Cheeseboard, the menu at Chez Panisse, and the chocolate chip cookies made with lard at the 1-year-old Local Butcher Shop. (The cookies were interesting but we really did miss the flavor and carmelization that comes with butter). We parted around 3:00, after tasting Hungarian tortes and sipping espresso at Crixa Cakes.  Such fun! But yikes!

To counter the buzz of alcohol, sugar, and caffeine (and lard?), I decided to walk the 2 miles home.

I was in bed but still awake at 2 AM, 3 AM, and 4 AM... then I gave up and played Words with Friends on my Iphone and exchanged silliness with David Lebovitz www.davidlebovitz.com on twitter for a while. I got up and cleaned out a drawer.  Back in bed, I worried about the election, wondered if the Buckwheat Walnut Crackers were baked at the right temperature, and finally started counting good things to do with bananas—instead of sheep.

I got this far: 

1. Grilled Sandwich: filled with sliced bananas, peanut butter and honey.

2. Bananas and Cream: slice bananas into a bowl with heavy cream and garnish with a couple thin orange slices, and perhaps a drop of orange flour water.

3. Bananas and Yogurt:  slice bananas into a bowl with plain yogurt, honey, and pistachios, walnuts, or peanuts.

4. Creamy Banana Yogurt “Pudding”: mash banana with an equal amount of plain yogurt. Sweeten and seasoned to taste with a bit of honey or brown sugar and pinches of cinnamon or cardamom. Top with chopped walnuts or pistachios. Top with extra pinches of spice.

5. Exotic Chocolate-Dipped Popsicles: mash bananas and season to taste with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Freeze in popsicle molds, unmold and dip in chocolate (see below), and shower with optional chopped walnuts or sprinkles.

6. Chocolate Banana Blintzes:  fold three slices of banana and a spoonful of thick ganache into each crepe, as for blintzes. Keep refrigerated until ready to sauté (very briefly) in butter. Serve immediately.  Full recipe in Chocolate Holidays (Artisan, 2001) 

7. Ice Cream Sandwiches:  free banana slices until hard. Process them in a food processor until thick and creamy with a texture like soft serve ice cream. Return the mixture to the freezer to firm up.  Scoop and press between thin crunchy oatmeal cookies.  Serve immediately or store in a covered container in the freezer.

8.  Chocolate Dipped Bananas: impale bananas on sticks and freeze solid.  Dip frozen bananas in warm chocolate dip (see recipe below), and sprinkle with chopped peanuts, if desired.

9. Butterscotch Bananas Foster:  Cut bananas in half crosswise and cut each piece in half lengthwise. Make Butterscotch Sauce from Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan, 2012)using Bourbon or Scotch, or warm purchased sauce in a skillet.  Heat the bananas in the sauce and serve with vanilla ice cream.

10.  Chocolate Banana Waffles: Sauté banana slices in a little butter. Serve on chocolate waffles. Top with crème frâiche. Full recipe in Chocolate Holidays (Artisan, 2001)

11. Salted-Caramel Banana Bread Pudding: recipe in Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan, 2012)

I could have gone on, but blessedly fell asleep around 6 AM.



CHOCOLATE DIP FOR FROZEN BANANAS OR POPSICLES 
Bananas are so long and curved that you would have to triple the recipe to fill a container large enough to submerge a whole banana!  The solution is to make a banana shaped trough out of heavy-duty foil (as described in the recipe) so you can submerge the banana horizontally (in a custom shaped container) without needing too much extra chocolate.  A little clarified butter added to the chocolate prevents a super thick coating and produces a pleasingly crisp coating that is not too hard to bite. 

Makes about 1 1/3 cups, enough for a dozen or more popsicles or 6 to 8 medium bananas, frozen on sticks.

Ingredients:
10 ounces dark chocolate (I use Scharffen Berger 70% Bittersweet)
1/4 cup clarified butter (or ghee)
2 pinches of salt, more to taste
1 cup chopped nuts or chocolate sprinkles, optional

Put the chocolate, clarified butter, and salt in a stainless steel bowl set in a wider skillet with less than an inch of not quite simmering water.  Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  Taste and adjust the salt if necessary, just to brighten the flavor of the chocolate, without making it salty.  Remove the bowl and let the chocolate cool to lukewarm. Line a tray with wax paper and set nuts or sprinkles close at hand, if using.

For popsicles: pour the chocolate into a narrow container deep enough to dip the entire popsicle.

For bananas: Place a large piece of heavy-duty foil loosely over a bread pan that is longer than a banana.  Using the pan for support, mold the foil into a narrow trough— slightly wider and longer than a banana and deep enough to submerge the whole fruit, held by the stick, and lowered with the curved side down.  Fill the trough with chocolate; refill the trough as necessary with the remaining chocolate.

Dip each popsicles or frozen banana into the chocolate and sprinkle immediately with nuts or sprinkles, if using.  Set dipped items on the lined tray.  Put the tray in the freezer until the chocolate is completely hardened. Transfer treats to a container or zipper lock bag and keep frozen until serving.  Excess dip can be kept in the fridge or freezer and used again. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ten Quick Smart Things To Do With Strawberries: Day Seven

I  had better finish up my 10 ideas for strawberries before strawberries go out of season! Fortunately this idea is good for fresh cherries too, not to mention figs.

Chocolate dipped strawberries(cherries, figs...)  are easy and fun to make.  Any child (of any age) would love to help you with dipping. Choose a brand of chocolate that you love to nibble. (And choose a bar of chocolate rather than chocolate chips or anything called “chocolate coating,” even if it is sold in the same aisle as the fruit. Chocolate chips won’t melt well, and the so called chocolate coating sold in the produce aisle is not delicious enough. No need to “temper” the chocolate to keep it shiny: the secret to preventing the chocolate from turning gray and streaky is to dry and chill the fruit before dipping, then refrigerate it as soon after dipping as possible.

CHOCOLATE DIPPED STRAWBERRIES

Serves 15 or more

Ingredients
About 2 pints small or medium strawberries (with or without stems), or up to 36 large
strawberries with stems, or 1 ¼ pounds cherries with stems

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or milk or white chocolate, finely chopped

Equipment
Cookie sheets
Fluted paper candy cups (optional)

Rinse the fruit gently and spread it out on a tray lined with paper towels. The fruit should be as dry as possible before dipping; if necessary, pat it dry or use a cupped hand to cradle each piece gently in a soft dishtowel or a paper towel. Refrigerate until chilled.

Line the cookie sheets with parchment paper. Put the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl, preferably stainless steel. Bring an inch of water to a simmer in a wide skillet. If using semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, set the bowl directly in the skillet and keep the water at a bare simmer. If using milk or white chocolate, turn the heat off under the skillet and wait for 60 seconds before putting the bowl in the hot water.

Stir dark chocolate frequently, milk and white chocolate almost constantly, until almost entirely melted, then remove the bowl, wipe the bottom dry, and stir to finish melting the chocolate. The chocolate should be warm and fluid, but not hot. Grasp fruit by the stem or the shoulders and dip it about two-thirds of the way into the chocolate, or deeper if you like. Lift the fruit above the chocolate and shake off the excess, letting it drip back into the bowl, then very gently wipe a little excess chocolate from one side of the fruit on the edge of the bowl, set it on a lined cookie sheet, wiped side down, and slide it forward slightly to prevent a puddle of chocolate from forming at the tip. Refrigerate each tray as soon as it’s filled, and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve any time after the chocolate has set enough that you can peel the fruit cleanly from the parchment. Transfer each one to a fluted candy cup, if desired.

If you are making chocolate dipped cherries, be sure to warn you guests that the cherries all have pits!

For more ideas for strawberries, see recent posts and my new book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan 2012) by Alice Medrich 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ten Quick smart Things to Do With Strawberries: Day Six


STRAWBERRIES WITH WHIPPED CREAM AND HALVAH

Did you know that strawberries and sesame are divine together?

To find out, serve a bowl of ripe strawberries layered with chopped halvah (as much or as little as you like) and topped with unsweetened whipped cream and more halvah.

That’s the recipe. Really, that is all there is to it. 

I’m not even taking a photo. You know what strawberries and cream look like so just imagine it laced with bits of yummy, sweet, rich, sesame halvah. Alternatively, you can fold the halvah into the cream to make halvah whipped cream, and then slather the berries with it. Either way: delish!

There is only one problem with this recipe (not counting the possibility that you might actually dislike halvah, in which can you can skip to the last paragraph):

You have to go out of your way to find superb sesame halvah choices here in the US. The ubiquitous American-made halvah found in supermarkets, gourmet shops, and delis is disappointing.  I hope no one judges all halvah by that one.  Meanwhile, I have been tweeting and emailing with David Lebovitz www.davidlebovitz.com, @davidlebovitz) during his Israeli trip last week and drooling over his reports of great halvah (and hummus etc.).  And I’ve been remembering some stunning Lebanese (or was it Turkish?) halvah—with rose water and pistachios— that I tasted here, in a local Palestinian restaurant a few years ago.

So yes, even in Berkeley, one has to out of their way for good halvah. Having just written that, I realized that I regularly go out of my way for special ingredients, so why not spend an hour or two looking for halvah? I’ll bring home everything I can find within a reasonable radius and invite a couple halvah lovers in to taste. Then I’ll take a photo…

Meanwhile, back to strawberries and cream:  If you really hate halvah, or if you can’t find good halvah, or if you need instant gratification while looking for some good halvah, you can substitute crushed peanut brittle, almond brittle, or any kind of toffee with nuts, for the halvah. I didn’t say this would be the same as using halvah (not at all) but it will produce a very easy crowd pleaser: what’s not to love about crunchy, nutty, sweet, and buttery, bits of crushed toffee with berries and cream? I normally make my own caramelized nuts for this, but buying brittle or toffee while shopping for the berries and cream is quicker and very smart indeed.

For more ideas for strawberries, see recent and upcoming posts and my new book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan 2012) by Alice Medrich