Friday, May 6, 2022

It’s a Cookie! No, a Cake!... Wait – It’s a Cookie Cake for Mother’s Day!!

What’s cooking? Parisian Cookie Cake 










Several days before my very first Mother’s Day, I told my husband I did not want one of those ultra-sweet cards, like the ones with the flowers and lace that his mother always enjoyed. I just wanted something simple, ...but I didn’t say that part. And thus began another early lesson in husband-wife communications.

I thought: Maybe now, I’ll just get a nice, simple card... and maybe some flowers.
He thought: Ok, so she doesn’t want a card. Maybe she doesn’t want anything.

You can imagine how this worked out, can’t you? All I will say is that it involved tears on my part and a rant on his about how Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day were just traps for guys, and a conspiracy on the part of the card and flower and candy companies. And every year since then, he has reminded me that I’m not his mother.

Then more recently, I actually forgot his birthday. Sort of. I had presents – not yet wrapped – but waiting to be wrapped. And while I always remember his birth date, we had so much going on in our lives that I didn’t realize the date had arrived. We were at a reunion of his college friends, and one of them gleefully announced that it was my prince’s birthday, while I sat slack-jawed at the news that I had missed the boat.

He was more than kind about it – actually thought it was funny – but of course, I was mortified. So I have given him a permanent pass for Mother’s Day.

* * *

If you’re looking around for an easy dessert to make for Mother’s Day, you have come to the right place. This one feels so much like an art project that I’m sure my own mother would have loved it. Very “hands-on.” Also elegant – the original recipe comes from Le Comptoir, the pastry shop at Paris’s legendary Ritz Hotel on the Place Vendôme.  (Of course it’s French. You know, chocolate.)

 And the whole process takes me little more than an hour.

What makes this cookie cake so good?
  • The texture is a mix of soft and crunchy – soft from the underlying cookie part that tastes very much like shortbread, and crunchy from the nuts on top.
  • Complex flavors. Instead of white sugar, the shortbread contains turbinado sugar, which is only partially refined so as to retain some of the original molasses from the sugarcane. Thus the subtle caramel flavor. And then there’s almond butter, that contributes a light nuttiness to the dough.
  • The shortbread bakes in a form that sits directly on the baking sheet, so the bottom of the cookie gets a little extra crispy caramelizing from the more direct contact with the sheet.
  • The topping is a riot of chocolate, almonds, and caramel (or butterscotch), with a finish of sea salt. I mean, what’s not to like?
    Kitchen Goddess note: The original of this cookie cake featured hazelnut purée instead of the almond butter, and chopped raw hazelnuts on top instead of almonds. Chef Greenspan suggested the almond butter/almonds. I’ve made it twice that way, and it’s fabulous. But I want to try it with the original flavors, using Nutella or Italian hazelnut purée and hazelnuts. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    The first time I made this dish was in December. Can you tell?


    Parisian Cookie Cake

    Adapted from Dorie Greenspan in The New York Times.

    Serves 8-12, depending on how generous you are with the pieces.

    Special equipment: 9-inch springform cake pan, baker’s parchment

    Ingredients

    1⅓ cups(170 grams) all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    ¼ teaspoon baking soda
    4 ounces (1 stick/113 grams) very soft unsalted butter
    ¾ cup (150 grams) turbinado sugar (e.g., Sugar in the Raw)
    ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
    3 tablespoons (54 grams) of pure almond butter (i.e., without added sugar or other ingredients), well stirred 
    1 large egg, at room temperature and lightly beaten
    4 ounces (113 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
    ⅓ cup (48 grams) raw almonds, coarsely chopped
    3 tablespoons (60 grams) caramel (or butterscotch) topping, for finishing (use more or less depending on your taste for caramel)
    Fleur de sel, for finishing (I use Maldon salt, which is less expensive and easier to find). Do not leave out this salt: it adds crunch and that famous sweet-salty thing.

    Directions

    Preheat your oven to 350º. Line a baking sheet with baker’s parchment. Set the ring of a 9-inch springform pan (without its base) upside down on the prepared sheet. The ridge in the ring should be at the top.

    In a medium mixing bowl, use a fork or a whisk to stir together the flour, baking powder and baking soda, being sure to aerate the mix. Set the dry ingredients aside.

    In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar and salt on medium-low for 2-3 minutes, or until the texture is smooth.

    Add the almond butter and continue mixing for another 2 minutes.

    Spoon in about a third of the flour mixture and beat – still on medium-low – until it’s absorbed into the butter mixture.

    Pour in the egg and mix on low speed until well incorporated.

    Add the rest of the dry ingredients and continue mixing on low until the dry ingredients are completely absorbed.



    Transfer the dough into the center of the springform ring. Use your fingers (or the back of a large spoon or an offset spatula) to get the dough pushed to the edges of the ring and evenly thick. Again using your fingers/spoon/offset spatula, gently smooth the surface of the cookie (no mashing down, please!).

    Ready for the oven.


    Scatter the chocolate and then the almonds across the surface of the cookie, and bake 22-26 minutes. (I have made this dessert twice in different ovens and needed almost 28 minutes the first time, 25 minutes the second time.) To test, insert a toothpick or other cake tester into an area of the cookie not covered by chocolate. If it comes out clean, the cookie is done.

    Move the baking sheet to a rack and immediately – but carefully – open and lift off the springform rim. Do not move the cookie. Once the cookie has cooled to room temperature, drizzle or dot the surface with caramel. Sprinkle the top lightly with sea salt. Don’t cut the cookie until it is completely cooled, as it tends to crumble while it’s still warm.

    Ready for the caramel and finishing salt.



    You could serve the finished product in 10-12 wedges, as Ms Greenspan suggests; but I find that people are happier with a dessert this rich if they can have something closer to bite-sized pieces. So I like to cut it in a lattice pattern with strips about an inch wide (see the diagram at left). This allows for smaller portions and even some oddly shaped pieces on the edge. The dessert goes well with vanilla ice cream.

    Wrapped in plastic wrap or in a sealed container, the cookie will keep for about 4 days at room temperature. 

     And a happy Mother’s Day to you all!

    Monday, January 10, 2022

    Wait a Minute – Christmas Is Over?!

    What’s cooking? Mamo’s Apricot Tarts




    You say Santa has come and gone?! But I have these tarts for him! Well, “Qué será, será.” What this really means is that I started this post before Christmas, and then... well, you know,... Christmas. So a few things got lost in the shuffle. But these delightful little pastries are so easy and fun that I felt sure you wouldn’t really care if they’re too late to be Santa treats. Make them now, and then again in December for Santa.

    My maternal grandmother was not known for her cooking. But she had two recipes at which she succeeded magnificently: brownies and apricot tarts. One of these days, I will divulge the secret recipe for her brownies – known to all of my friends as “Mamo’s Brownies” – but today is the day for her apricot tarts.

    She sent me shoe boxes of them when I was away at college, and my suitemates would fall on them like thirsty men at an oasis in the desert. (Do you ever wonder why it was always men dying of thirst in the desert? Personally, I think women are much too smart to strike out on their own in unforgiving climes. But I digress.) Anyway, those little nibbles were that good. Not overly sweet, with a flaky crust dusted with powdered sugar, and a tiny surprise of stewed apricots inside.

    I recently decided to try making them myself. I had plans to see my grandchildren over Thanksgiving, and we always enjoy baking together.

    The first challenge was to adapt the recipe. For instance, hers called for three 3-ounce packages of cream cheese, which now only comes in 8-ounce packages. The second ingredient was two sticks of margarine. Margarine? As a committed butter user, I had to work my way around that one. Then there was no indication of the size of the “one package” of dried apricots. And on it went. To call the instructions minimalist would be a vast understatement. But the Kitchen Goddess forged ahead.

    This project was especially fun because there’s a lot the grandchildren could do themselves. Once I got the dough rolled out, the 9-year-old cut out her own circles of dough, loaded them with the stewed apricots, and pinched the sides together herself. The 7-year-old didn’t like the icky way the dough felt on his hands, so I held the round of dough while he spooned apricots into it; then I folded it over and he pinched it shut. We managed this and another easy cookie (for another post), and we only took about 5 hours. It turns out that every project takes extra time when you’re baking with kids.

    So here they are. I will give you the recipe the way I made them, which was by stewing apricots. My cousin Helen goes the simpler route and fills them with really good, really thick apricot preserves. I will leave you to make your own choice – including that of using a different fruit altogether – and you don’t have to tell me which direction you went.

    Kitchen Goddess note: In the recipe below, the KG uses a combination of unsalted butter and Crisco – a technique she borrowed from her rollout cookies. You can just use 2 sticks of butter if you prefer, but Crisco’s higher melting point means it keeps the pastry layers separate longer as the dough bakes, which increases the flakiness/tenderness of the pastry and helps the tarts hold their shape in the oven.



    Mamo’s Apricot Tarts

    Makes about 3 dozen.

    Ingredients

    For the filling:
    8 ounces dried apricots, cut in ¼-inch dice
    ½ cup sugar
    about 2 cups of water

    For the crust:
    2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
    Rounded ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
    One 8-ounce package cream cheese, chilled and cut into about 8 portions
    10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in ½-inch dice
    6 tablespoons Crisco

    For the finished pies:
    ¼-½ cup powdered sugar

    Special equipment: biscuit cutter, 3½-4 inches in diameter (I used a scalloped biscuit cutter because I thought it would look pretty, which it did, but – obviously – you can also use one with a plain edge. My grandmother used the lid to her percolator, so who knows what the original dimensions were.)

    Directions

    Start the stewed apricots first. In a small saucepan, stir together the apricots, the sugar, and 1 cup of water. Bring the mixture to a low boil and stir occasionally as the apricots absorb the water and become softer.

    As the mixture becomes jammier, add more water in ½-cup increments. Continue to stir occasionally until the apricot pieces begin to lose their form, and the mixture becomes truly jammy. Periodically, you may want to adjust the heat to keep the apricots from burning. Stop cooking when it reaches a degree of jamminess you like. (The Kitchen Goddess tends to cook hers for about 2 hours.) Set aside to cool. 


    Almost forgot to take this photo -- it’s what I had left after two batches of tarts. But you can see
    the consistency of my stewed apricots. Pretty jammy.

    Kitchen Goddess note: This recipe will make more apricot mixture than you need for one batch of tarts, but it freezes well in a plastic container, so you can make another batch at a moment’s notice!

    While the apricots are cooking, make the dough.

    Kitchen Goddess note: You can go the traditional route – mixing the dough by hand, using a pastry blender – but why would you? My grandmother mixed her dough by hand, but she was younger than I am now, and had no food processor. The KG uses her handy food processor, and has been delighted with the results. It takes almost no time at all, and it keeps the butter and shortening cold, which is key to producing flaky pastry. And the grandchildren enjoy taking turns at pulsing the machine.

    Measure your flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse 3-4 times, to aerate the flour. Scatter the cream cheese, Crisco, and cold butter evenly on top of the flour, and pulse until the dough begins to come together in a couple of large lumps. This will take 20-25 pulses, depending on how long your pulses are.

    Transfer the dough to waxed paper or cellophane wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. A warning: You can actually refrigerate it overnight, but it becomes difficult to work with after only a couple of hours.

    Prepare a baking sheet (or two) with baker’s parchment, and preheat the oven to 375º. Prepare a small (custard-size) bowl with about ¼ cup of cold water.

    Divide the dough into halves, working one half at a time and refrigerating the other half. On a well-floured surface, roll the dough out to a ⅛-inch thickness. Use the biscuit cutter to cut circles you can hold on your open palm. Fill each circle of dough with about a teaspoon of the stewed apricots (or preserves), placing it slightly off-center so you have the other half to fold over. Dab a bit of the cold water around the edges of the circle, to help “glue” the two halves together. Fold the dough circles in half and use your fingers to gently press the rounded edges together.





    Ready for the oven.

    Ready for the powdered sugar!


    Place the completed tarts at least an inch apart on the baking sheet and bake 23-25 minutes until light golden brown on top. Set the pan on a baking rack and let the tarts cool for 5-10 minutes. While they are still warm, sift powdered sugar over them. The tarts will keep, stored in a closed container, for several days.



    Happy January to you all!

    Thursday, December 30, 2021

    Cheers!!

     What’s cooking? Holiday Sparkler Cocktail




    The Kitchen Goddess is celebrating the new year. Yes, in spite of the fairly grim forecasts for the next few months, we can all celebrate something, if not more than a few somethings. After all, the past two years have brought Covid marriages, Covid babies born, and not a few who’ve taken the Covid wake-up call to reassess their careers and goals and move their lives in new and exciting directions. So there’s sure to be good coming out of 2022.

    And what better way to celebrate this new year than with a bit of alcohol? Anything that bubbles, anything that sparkles – the goal is to be festive. Long ago, in the early days of this blog, I posted a drink called a Champagne Cosmopolitan, the recipe for which I found in a long-forgotten issue of Gourmet magazine. When we lived in New Jersey, for our annual Soup Party, my hubby and I frequently met guests at the door with a tray of these lovely drinks. They were always welcomed. (Click here for the recipe.)







    More recently, I hosted a holiday luncheon for a small group of women friends, and my friend Gail, the one in charge of the drinks – you know you can’t have a holiday luncheon without a special drink – brought an over-the-top cocktail that was simultaneously fun, beautiful, and delicious. And light enough on the alcohol that we could have two if we wanted.

    The pièce de résistance was a tiny spoonful of edible silver dust (also known as Luster Dust), which you can find on amazon or at your local baking supply store. As it swirls around in the liquid, it creates an effect that I can only describe as magic. (And here I’ve been using it only on cookies!)






    Gail introduced another element that made the cocktail special: fresh cranberries frozen in ice cubes. So, of course, the Kitchen Goddess did likewise when serving them to her family on Christmas. It’s a bit of a pain getting them to freeze in the middle of the cubes because the berries have a tendency to float. But if you fill the tray half-way, add the berries, then freeze them, then add water on top and freeze again, you can get just the effect. I know... it’s a Kitchen Goddess sort of obsession, but you must admit they look special.



    If you can’t find fresh cranberries, I think you could do the same trick with raspberries or pomegranate seeds. And if you have a hard time finding white cranberry juice, try your local mega-liquor store 



    Holiday Sparkler Cocktail

    Adapted from Breckenridge Distillery


    Makes 1 drink.


    Ingredients

    1½ ounces vodka
    5 ounces white cranberry juice
    Splash of Prosecco
    ¼ teaspoon silver pearl dust

    Special equipment: a lowball glass (also called a rocks glass or an old-fashioned glass), which holds 6-10 fluid ounces.

    In a lowball glass, stir together the vodka and the cranberry juice. Add ice and pour in the splash of Prosecco. Slowly stir in the silver dust and serve.

    Kitchen Goddess note: If you are going to be making more than one of these – and who would not make more than one? – it's easiest to mix together a batch of the vodka and the white cranberry juice. Then for each drink, all you have to add is the ice, the splash of Prosecco, and the silver dust.


    So here’s to you and yours, to better times, to your health and happiness, and to whatever manner of blessings that come your way. Happy New Year!



    Thursday, December 9, 2021

    ’Tis the Season – A Holiday Gift List for Foodie Fun and Kitchen Cheer

     What’s cooking? Are you crazy? Who has time to cook when we have shopping to do?!




    Who is more deserving than the person who, every night during the COVID lockdown, still figured out what to have for dinner? When life was one long Zoom call in your sweatpants, who made the effort to put something new and different in front of you to eat? That person deserves a little nod, and maybe a little something under the tree. Besides, it’s that time of year when it’s way more satisfying to give than to receive.

    With all this in mind, the Kitchen Goddess has had her eye out for little bits of specialness all year long. Some of these are just fun, and some are outright helpful.

    Kitchen Goddess note: The KG, being a paragon of commercial virtue, has not received so much as a coupon for $1 off in exchange for these recommendations.


    Stocking Stuffers

    In a random moment of wandering around my office, I recently discovered a copy of Gear for Your Kitchen, by Alton Brown. I already have all I need, I said to myself, so I was about to put it in the donation pile when I realized I’d never actually read it. Leafing through a few pages, I found all sorts of fun information, much of it overly geeky – like why certain materials are better for certain types of dishes and pots and pans – but then that’s also who I am, so I liked that. But Mr. Brown also coughed up several items not normally found in the kitchen, but that actually make great kitchen tools. So surprise the foodie in your life with one of these.



    Tailor’s Sewing Gauge
    – This little gizmo, used by tailors for measuring hems, is ideal for measuring the thickness of roll-out dough, or for revealing when the sauce in a pan has been reduced by one-third. You can get this package of two for $7.49 from amazon.com. Or the Dritz sewing gauge (like the one on the right) – the one I remember from 8th grade Homemaking class – is $5.78 for just the one.




    Box Cutter/Utility Knife (this one $6.79 at Staples) – Yes, it’s excellent at opening packages, but because it can be set at a specific depth, it’s also great for scoring a ham, cutting puff pastry dough, and scoring bread dough before baking or – according to the author – scoring calamari so it won’t curl while cooking. The KG has never cooked calamari, but now that I have my utility knife, who knows?



    Mortar Trowel ($7.98 at Lowe’s) – When you’ve finished spackling the bathroom, this is just the tool you need for serving pie. The offset hilt makes it much easier to dig down into that pie tin, and the blade itself is thin and flexible enough to slide right under a slice. Yet it’s strong enough to lift the pie out of the tin. The word according to Alton Brown...






    Rubber No-skid Shelf Liner (rolls range from $9.99 to $18.00 at Bed Bath & Beyond or your local hardware or kitchen store) – Does it drive you crazy when your cutting boards slide around on your kitchen counter? It’s also dangerous when you have a knife in your hand. A piece of this shelf liner can stabilize those boards and be put into the dishwasher when you’re done. And you can cut it to be just the right size for your boards. I have both the mesh style, shown here, and the clear solid style. Both work for this task.



    Zyliss Pizza Cutter ($14.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond) – This one was an eye-opener for the Kitchen Goddess. Safer than your run-of-the-mill pizza wheel, and easier to control – no more of those off-shape slices, unless you want them that way. And it comes apart for the dishwasher.







    Not Cheap, but Less Than $30


    You may have forgotten the Kitchen Goddess’s paean to her Honing Steel last year. After all, the COVID-19 virus was raising its ugly head, so who could think about keeping your knives in shape? But judicious use of a honing steel will actually prolong the lives of your knives, and reduce the need to get them sharpened. Look for a steel that’s at least 1 inch longer than your longest knife. (Not good for serrated knives, but I can’t solve all your problems.) The one shown here is a 9-inch Honing Steel by Wüsthof, who also makes excellent knives. It’s $20 at Faraday’s Kitchen Store or amazon.com or Crate and Barrel.



    The Kitchen Goddess thinks salt shakers are so 20th century. Instead, she keeps a small white dish of salt near the stove top, where she can grab a pinch or a teaspoon of salt to toss into whatever soup or other dish she’s making. She recently spotted a darling glass-and-steel salt server that may actually go on her wish list to Santa. It’s the RSVP Endurance Salt Server, and it’s $25.18 at amazon.com, $23.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond. (KG uses the pinch method, so she’ll probably ditch the tiny spoon.)



    If you’re sufficiently intrigued by the suggestions I gleaned from Alton Jones’s book, you might just make a gift of the book itself. Alton Brown’s Gear for Your Kitchen is actually a fun read, as it gives Mr. Brown’s quirky, slightly snarky sense of humor free rein. Lots of good, practical information about which tools work and which don’t, small bites of culinary history and manufacturing history, and the occasional recipe. ($19.67 in hardcover from amazon.com, $16.11 in paperback)




    Real Food

    Who spends crazy money on special salt and pepper? I do. And I recognize that not many people will buy these sorts of ingredients for themselves. But if you got them as a gift,... Well, let’s just say that there’s something exciting about sprinkling an exotic ingredient into your food. Here are three of the Kitchen Goddess’s favorites:


    Wynad Peppercorns – 

    Wynad peppercorns are grown using organic methods in the Wynad district of Kerala, India, an area known for the some of the best peppercorns in the world.  If you can manage a side-by-side comparison, you’ll notice that these peppercorns are significantly larger than your standard grocery peppercorns. That’s because they are left on the vine to fully ripen and turn red, before being hand-harvested and sun-dried. Most peppercorns are harvested when green, so Wynad berries are larger and spicier because of this extended ripening time. The fragrance is rich and floral with a mounting full heat. The package is vacuum-sealed to preserve flavor and aroma. (75 grams are $16.99 from amazon.com)




    ■ Amabito No Moshio (Seaweed Salt) ($14.00 on amazon.com) – 

    If you have ever watched the Salt segment from the Netflix series based on Samin Nosrat’s best seller, Salt Fat Acid Heat, you will likely find yourself mesmerized by the author’s journey to Japan, where she explores the ancient and laborious hands-on method of harvesting this sea salt, from seaweed. According to the company’s website (oishisojapan.com), “Amabito no Moshio is made using the best local ingredients and a thoughtful process combining old and new methods. The seawater comes from Kenmin no Hama Beach next to the salt house. Facing out to a broad open expanse of the Seto Inland Sea, the beach is one of the purest sources of the sea's famously rich brine.” 

    If Samin Nosrat and the reviewers on amazon are to be believed, the seaweed imparts a big umami hit, and lots of minerals. The grain is fairly small, and because there’s a moistness to it, it’s better used from a salt server like the one listed earlier in this post. 

    The Kitchen Goddess will confess that she has not yet opened hers, having fallen in love with the darling linen bag it comes in, that just radiates “special.” And she spends a lot of time saying, “Amabito No Moshio,” in case she ever gets to Japan. Whatever. Amazon reviewers claim that it’s fabulous on all sorts of foods, but especially cooked fish and sushi. Having watched the Netflix segment, I believe them.


    Truffle & Salt by Casina Rossa (3.5 ounces for $20.95 on amazon.com, although I got mine at Murray’s Cheeses in NYC) --

    Yes, it’s expensive for such a small jar, but you don’t put it on everything and you don’t need a lot.  The heady, aromatic blend of Italian black truffle and sea salt is amazing on many pasta dishes, and anything with mushrooms or anything to which you might add mushrooms. I have kept mine well closed and in the dark, and the flavor has lasted two years. Amazon reviewers say it’s the most concentrated of the truffle salts they’ve tasted, using words like “transformative,” “divine,” and “addictive.” Would the KG lie to you?

    * * *

    While you are shopping, you might also consider the enormous number of people who are suffering – from a lack of food, housing, warm clothing... I’m especially fond of Feed America, the Central Texas Food Bank, and José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen. But there are so many others doing good work, and all could use your help.


    And a happy and healthy holiday season to you all!



    Thursday, November 18, 2021

    Not Your Mother’s Chicken Soup

    What’s cooking? Asian Chicken Soup with Lettuce, Rice, & Ginger





    This is the week when you really don’t want to have to work at putting food on the table. Between the menu planning and the ordering and the shopping and the decisions on how to decorate the table, there’s not really much energy left for the meals leading up to Turkey Day. But we all have to eat, even on those other days.

    Ta-da! Kitchen Goddess to the rescue. Today’s recipe relies on the simplest of ingredients, tastes amazing, and comes together in less than 30 minutes, including the prep work. Really. Would the KG lie to you?

    The back story started with a recipe hunt – something I do way too often. Frankly, any random occurrence can send me off wandering around the internet, looking up food. This time, it was for tempura green beans. I’d had a marvelous plate of them at a restaurant, and as I thought about them a couple of days later in my kitchen, I turned instinctively to my iPad, where I cruised the web for a good half hour to find a way to cook them. I’m still looking for one that doesn’t involve a large of amount of boiling oil, and I’ll let you know when I find one.

    But while I was looking, I noticed a tiny window down in a corner of my screen. Some chef was throwing a bunch of ingredients into a pot, and it looked really good, but there was no sound because I wasn’t really on that page looking for what that chef was making.

    Just as I went in for a closer look, the video changed, and I found myself watching a YouTube of Colin Josts’s best moments on Saturday Night Live. Now I think Colin Jost is hilarious, but I experienced a mild panic because I didn’t know where that first clip came from. Grrrr... 

    Several frenetic back arrows and google searches later, I did find that clip, because – and you’ll love this – I recognized the chef! The dish was a chicken soup, using ingredients I had on hand, so I made it. And ate the whole thing myself. Then I made it again and served it to my hubby, who turned to me mid-bowl and said, “This is delicious! What is it?”

    I’ve now made it several more times, finally managing to take photos in the process, because we normally scarf it down so fast there’s nothing left to point the camera at.

    So..., chicken soup, eh? You are probably asking yourself what could possibly make chicken soup new and exciting. Well, unless your mother is (or was) Asian, this chicken soup will be a completely new experience – and maybe even then.

    The chef was J. Kenji López-Alt, author of The Food Lab and the principal food scientist for the Serious Eats (seriouseats.com) website. He’s the son of a German-American father and a Japanese mother, and the López is from his wife, who is Colombian. So he’s got serious multinational food creds. This soup is decidedly Asian in flavor.

    What I love most about it is that it uses a handful of ingredients that often sit in my fridge until I decide it’s too late: leftover rice (mostly from Chinese takeout), leftover rotisserie chicken, and an extra head of lettuce from one of those bags with three small heads of romaine. That will no longer be a problem, because I’ll just make the soup.

    The rice here is a brown/white combo, and note the jar of Better Than Bouillon, my new fave.

    Almost forgot 
    about the fish sauce
    Beyond those three, there’s really just the ginger and Thai fish sauce, both of which I try to always have on hand. (The Kitchen Goddess keeps a ziplock bag of ginger root in the freezer.) And I’m just hoping you have Thai fish sauce in the fridge. If not, you should get some, because it’s very umami and lasts forever.

    Anyway, this recipe requires dedicated mis en place, because once you have the ingredients together, the “cooking” part takes literally less than 10 minutes.




    So about the lettuce. I know, it was a surprise even to the Kitchen Goddess that you can cook lettuce and end up with something good. As it happens, cooked lettuce has long been part of French and Chinese cuisine. And despite its mild flavor, the lettuce in this soup is sort of the secret ingredient, texture-wise. If you cook it just until the leaves wilt, the lightly cooked stalks still have a bit of crunch that’s quite fresh-tasting and delicious.

    Also, if you have any soup left over for the next day, just heat it and throw in more lettuce. The flavor doesn’t really change from the additional lettuce, and you revive that light crunch as well.



    Asian Chicken Soup with Lettuce, Rice and Ginger

    Adapted from J. Kenji López-Alt at seriouseats.com


    This recipe is a doubling of the original, because I am always happy to have some in the fridge, so I make extra. You can make half if you’d like, but in the end, you’ll wish you’d made more.

    Serves 5-6.

    Ingredients

    2 quarts good chicken stock (or use Better Than Bouillon with water)
    2 mounded cups rotisserie chicken (or other leftover chicken), without skin, cut in 1-inch dice
    1½ -2 cups leftover rice (white or brown, like Chinese takeout, or whatever plain rice is in the fridge)
    6 slices raw ginger, ⅛-inch thick (peeled or not – I prefer peeled)
    4 teaspoons Thai fish sauce
    ½ teaspoon ground white pepper*
    Kosher salt to taste
    1 small head romaine lettuce, sliced 1 inch-wide


    Garnishes:
    7-8 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
    ½ cup (loosely packed) cilantro, chopped

    *Kitchen Goddess note on white pepper vs black: In a test run by Cook’s Illustrated, they made two pots of a soup that traditionally calls for white pepper, using a teaspoon of black pepper in one batch and a teaspoon of white pepper in the other. Tasters reported that the one with black pepper was more aromatic and had more spicy heat, but they preferred the soup with white pepper for its floral, earthy flavor and greater complexity. So you can use either in this soup, but the taste may not be quite the same.


    Directions
    In a large saucepan, heat the stock with the chicken, the rice, the ginger, and the fish sauce, until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer for about 5 minutes.

    Add the lettuce. Let the soup simmer until the lettuce leaves are wilted. Add salt to taste. (Depending on the saltiness of your broth, it’ll need a lot, a little, or none, so taste carefully.)



    Add the garnishes. If you like the flavor of raw scallions, serve the soup in a cup or bowl and sprinkle the scallions and cilantro on top. The Kitchen Goddess prefers her scallion flavor to be a little milder, so she adds her scallions to the soup while it is still simmering, then immediately turns off the heat. Serve the soup in a cup or bowl and sprinkle the cilantro on top.


    One final note: If you are serving the soup to guests, you may want to remove the ginger slices, as they don’t really taste good. For yourself or your family, just tell them to pick the ginger out.

    Now, how easy was that?! 






    Tuesday, October 12, 2021

    Baking with Lita

     What’s cooking? Pocky Sticks






    Summer is finally over, but I am still reliving the memories of baking with my grandchildren over those three months.

    As 7- and 9-year-olds, they have a keen interest in the baking process – the stirring or whipping, the measuring and combining of ingredients, and of course the decorating. My grandson, the 7-year-old, wants to taste each ingredient. At first, I said, “No. You don’t understand – the ingredients don’t taste anything like the cookies themselves.” And then I had a moment of clarity, as I thought, What do I care? It’s not like any of it is poisonous. After all, it’s supposed to be a learning experience. Learning for me, too, it turns out. Learning to let go.

    So I explained what the ingredients are, and let them taste each in turn as we added them to the mix. Of course, some tasted “Yuk!” and some – like the flour – tasted “Hmmm,” and the accidental glug of vanilla elicited an “Ack!” and a rush to spit it out in the sink. Also, of course, I had to cut the quantities of each ingredient in half, so that each child could add some to the mix. (Ever alert to possibilities, I made this part into a lesson about fractions. I’m so much fun.)

    In the end, the process took about three times as long as you would expect, so I advise anyone deciding to cook with grandchildren to remember – first – to be patient, and – second – to allow lots of extra time. Third is that you’ll need a nap when it’s all over, because they make an unholy mess and with two or more of them, you will find yourself running back and forth to keep little fingers out of (1) the dough, (2) the icing, (3) the ingredients. It’s good to be mentally prepared for all the incidental activity.

    One cookie they chose to make – from The New York Times “12 Stunning Cookies That Will Impress Everyone You Know” (Dec. 3, 2019), was Pocky Sticks.

    If you google “pocky sticks,” you’ll mostly find the commercial version of these cookies, which are all made by the Japanese company,  Ezaki Glico. They’re thin, stick-like treats that get dipped in various sweet coatings covering about three-quarters of the length of each stick. The cookie part tastes more savory than sweet, which may be why the company describes them as “biscuits,” not cookies.

    Naturally curious about the name and origin of these biscuits/cookies, the Kitchen Goddess did some research. Are you equally curious? Of course you are.

    Formed in 1921, Glico focused its early product lines on nutritious caramel and biscuits. As the Japanese economy recovered after WWII, the company focus shifted to desserts. In 1958, they added chocolate bars with almonds, and in 1962, a German snack stick called Pretz. In short order (1966), some clever person figured out to combine the chocolate bars with Pretz to produce Pocky Sticks. (Although the snack began its life as Chocotek, within the first two years of production, it was changed to Pocky, a name stemming from the Japanese onomatopoetic phrase pokkin-pokkin, for the sound made when a biscuit snaps in two.)

    And in a blatant appeal to young females, who didn’t like the mess of chocolate on their fingers, the company left one end of the stick uncovered. This tidier snacking experience solidified Pocky’s signature look.

    The home version of Pocky Sticks are great fun to make, especially for kids who are already well versed in Play-Doh and modeling clay techniques. And you can decorate them – or not – as the spirit moves you. My grandchildren are always in a mood to decorate. For our debut effort, we drizzled white chocolate and semisweet chocolate, plus two types of sprinkles. (Unable to help myself, I made one combining white chocolate with potato chip crumbs, which was delicious, but not as interesting to the kids.)

    The grandkids' version are more free-form, but more fun, too, and just as tasty.

    Another bonus of this recipe is that you can make the dough entirely in a food processor, which makes fast work of cutting the butter into the dry ingredients, and is extremely effective at keeping small fingers out of harm’s way.



    Pocky Sticks

    Adapted from Susan Spungen in The New York Times


    Yield: Ms. Spungen gets 34 cookie sticks, but the KG and her grandkids were perhaps a bit less delicate, and got only 24. (It’s just possible that a few of our sticks got eaten before they could get iced or counted.)

    Ingredients

    For the dough:
    3 tablespoons granulated sugar
    ½ teaspoon baking powder
    ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
    ¼ cup (55 grams or ½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces (I cut into tablespoons then cut each tablespoon into fourths) and chilled
    3 tablespoons whole milk
    ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
    1¼ cups (160 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

    For the decorating:*
    3 ounces (85 grams) white chocolate, chopped (about ½ cup)
    3 ounces (85 grams) milk chocolate, chopped (about ½ cup)
    3 ounces (85 grams) dark chocolate, chopped (about ½ cup)
    Vegetable shortening, as needed
    1 tablespoon pulverized freeze-dried raspberries or strawberries
    ½ teaspoon matcha powder
    3 tablespoons chopped nuts
    Coconut, nonpareils, decorating sugar

    *Kitchen Goddess note about the decorating: These decorating ingredients are courtesy of Ms. Spungen, who made strawberry-flavored white chocolate and matcha-flavored white chocolate, and dark chocolate with nuts. You should let your imagination run wild and free. How about black-and-white cookies, using white chocolate and Famous Chocolate Wafer crumbs, or dark chocolate and crumbled white meringue cookies from Trader Joe’s? Or try my choice of white chocolate with crumbled potato chips, or the powdered sugar icing I use on my rollout cookies: 1 cup powdered sugar + ½ teaspoon vanilla + ¼ teaspoon salt + 1 tablespoon water and whatever food coloring you like. Oh, the possibilities...

    Directions for making the sticks

    Prepare the dough: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the 1¼ cups flour, the sugar, baking powder and salt, and pulse 4-5 times to combine and aerate the dry ingredients. Sprinkle the pieces of butter over the dry mix and pulse until small crumbs form.

    In a measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla. While the food processor is running, pour the vanilla milk in a stream into the flour mixture. Use a rubber spatula to wipe down the sides of the bowl, and pulse until the dough is well mixed and begins to hold together.

    Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and roll until it is just over ¼-inch thick and the shape of the dough approximates a rectangle, 5½ inches by 8 inches. A bench scraper or the side of a large knife can be helpful in getting the sides to be straight, though there’s no need to get crazy over the straight sides. (We remember that these are cookies, right? And that there’s no prize for them being exactly the same size? The Kitchen Goddess periodically needs these reminders. Your children or grandchildren will have no such worries.)

    Wrap the dough rectangle in plastic and transfer to a small baking sheet. Chill until firm, for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.

    When you are ready to begin baking, heat the oven to 350º. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with either baker’s parchment or silicone baking mats.

    Position the dough on a lightly floured surface with the short side toward you, and, using a bench scraper or long knife, cut the dough crosswise into halves and transfer half the dough (re-wrapped in plastic) to the refrigerator while you work with the other half.

    With the short side of the dough still facing you, use a bench scraper or long knife to cut ¼-inch-thick strips that will be about 5½ inches long. Using the palms of your hands, gently roll each strip on a lightly floured work surface until it reaches 7-8 inches in length.

    Carefully transfer the finished strips to your parchment- or silicone mat-lined baking sheets, keeping them as straight as possible and spacing them about 1½ inches apart. Repeat with the remaining dough. Freeze both sheets of dough sticks until firm, 10-15 minutes.

    Bake the sticks until you can see that the edges are golden, 14-16 minutes. Let the sticks cool a few minutes on the baking sheets, then carefully move them to wire racks to cool completely.


    Directions for decorating the sticks

    Kitchen Goddess note on melting/thinning chocolate: Any chocolate – dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate – will work better for dipping/drizzling if it’s thinned a bit with vegetable oil or other neutral oil (e.g., canola, coconut).  Do not use butter or margarine; both of those contain water, which will ruin the melting process. My online sources say to add the oil before you begin the melting process; my “friend” sources say you can also add it in the middle of the process. The key is for the temperature of the oil to be close to that of the chocolate. For dark or milk chocolate, add ½ teaspoon of oil per 3 ounces of chocolate; for white chocolate, add 1 teaspoon of oil per 3 ounces of chocolate. 

    To melt your chocolate, first chop the chocolate into pieces the size of chocolate chips (unless, of course, you already have chocolate chips).

    Stovetop method: Place the chocolate and oil in a metal bowl set over a small saucepan containing an inch of simmering water, stirring occasionally until the chocolate melts. To keep from getting the chocolate too hot, the water shouldn’t touch the bowl. As the chocolate melts, whisk the oil/chocolate until the mixture is glossy. 

    Microwave method: Place the chocolate and oil in a microwave-safe bowl (preferably glass), and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir well and microwave for another 20 seconds. Stir well. If you find that the chocolate has mostly melted after the first two intervals, stop and continue to stir, as the heat from the melted parts will often coax a melt out of the rest. If not, microwave another 20 seconds and stir well again. 

    With either method, dont overheat the chocolate, as it can become lumpy and grainy.

    And for a special treat, you get to lick the spoons and bowls at the end.

    My grandchildren wanted to dip the cookie sticks directly into the chocolate, but I explained that we would end up with cookie “dust” in the chocolate. So... holding a cookie stick over a bowl of chocolate, use a small spoon to pour the chocolate over 2/3 of the stick, turning the stick to coat on all sides. Let any excess drip off, and set the chocolate-coated cookie on a parchment- or wax paper-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with nonpareils or nuts or crumbs as desired. (You may need to reheat the dips, by returning them to the pot or microwave, if needed.)

    Refrigerate the decorated sticks until the coating hardens. Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 week.





    Tuesday, September 7, 2021

    Peachy Keen – part 2

     What’s cooking? Herby Grilled Chicken Thighs with Pickled Peaches





    Kitchen Goddess note: I have discovered – via epicurious.com – that if you can’t find fresh peaches, the pickling recipe below will also work – equally well – with canned peach halves. I haven’t tried it that way, but epicurious.com hasn’t lied to me yet... And I’ll probably try it at some point just out of curiosity, as the pickling juice is a terrific addition to my collection of Useful Liquids to Have in the Fridge.

    With every year that I spend back in my home state of Texas, I’m reminded of some of the culinary traditions that were part of my childhood. For instance, Southern cooks will fry almost anything, and if they can’t fry it, they just might pickle it instead. Some foods, like okra, might be treated either way. My mother pickled eggs and beets and jalapeños – often all together. And with peach season on the wane, pickling is a way to preserve them without making jam.

    At my grandmother’s house, many meals included a pickled peach half, often on a piece of iceberg lettuce or served in a cut glass bowl on the Sunday table. I loved those peaches, of which my grandmother seemed to have an endless supply. So when I moved back to Texas as an adult, I felt sure I’d find them again. I’ve looked long and hard in every southern grocery store, to no avail. And then I found this recipe. The brine is a bit tarter than I remembered, but the tangy kick of the vinegar with that bouquet of warm spices (clove, cinnamon, ginger, allspice) takes me right back to my grandmother’s table.

    Today’s recipes were part of a feature on peaches in the August 2016 issue of Food & Wine magazine – an issue I discovered here in our NJ condo when we returned this summer after our COVID hiatus. Clearly, that issue had been waiting for me. The recipe appeared courtesy of Southern super-chef Sean Brock, who at the time was serving the pickled peaches grilled (!) with chicken thighs. I’ve tried it, and it’s outstanding. And now, I bring it to you.

    Many of you will shy away from the idea of pickling peaches. I get that. But trust the Kitchen Goddess and give this a try. (Or, if you’re sufficiently intrigued to try eating them but not cooking them, you can apparently order them online from Walmart. Who knew?) Eat them by themselves, or:

    ■ with vanilla ice cream on top, or chopped and on top of the ice cream;

    ■ piled in wedges on toast spread with burrata;

    ■ alongside grilled meats, like pork chops or chicken;

    ■ alongside burgers or sandwiches, instead of a pickle;

    ■ to elevate a cheese plate, as recommended in Southern Living magazine.

    ■ Or served as my grandmother did – in a cut glass bowl, of course – as a condiment with roast chicken or turkey for Sunday dinner.

    Southern Living also suggests that you save any leftover brine and add a splash to vinaigrettes or iced tea. That salad dressing idea is part of today’s recipe. Great minds...




    Pickled Peaches

    Adapted from Chef Sean Brock, founder of Husk Nashville, in Food & Wine Magazine


    Ingredients
    5-6 firm-ripe medium-sized peaches
    1½ cups distilled white vinegar
    1 cup sugar
    1 stalk lemongrass, tender inner bulb only, thinly sliced
    One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
    ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
    5 allspice berries
    2 whole cloves
    One 3-inch cinnamon stick

    Special equipment: 2 quart-size jars with lids, or 1 half-gallon jar with lid

    Directions

    Kitchen Goddess note on peeling peaches: I find that ripe peaches are easy to peel; if you do not, or your peaches are just being difficult, use a sharp paring knife to cut a small X into the bottoms of the peaches and drop them into a saucepan of boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Remove them from the water into an ice bath to cool; the skins should come off easily. Discard the water and wipe out the saucepan.

    Slice the peeled peaches in half and remove the pits. Reserve the peach halves in a heatproof bowl.

    Use the saucepan to combine the rest of the ingredients plus 1½ cups of water. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil, and pour it over the peach halves. Let the bowl cool to room temperature, then cover with cellophane wrap and refrigerate overnight.

    If you will not be using the peaches the next day, store them in jars with as much brine as will fit; save the remaining brine in a separate container, and use it in pickling other fruits or veggies... or more peaches!



    * * *


    Even if you decline to try pickling peaches, this chicken recipe is one you’ll surely want to keep. The Kitchen Goddess has executed this dish on a grill and under a broiler, and both ways are good.




    Herby Grilled Chicken Thighs with Pickled Peaches

    Adapted from Chef Sean Brock, founder of Husk Nashville, in Food & Wine Magazine


    Serves 4. (To serve 2, don’t bother cutting the molasses/salt/water mixture in half, but do halve the rest of the ingredients.)


    Ingredients
    1 tablespoon sorghum syrup or molasses
    2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning the arugula
    8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (2-2½ pounds)
    ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 
    1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (if no red, can substitute – with no loss of flavor – white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar)
    2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    ¼ cup each of chopped parsley, chopped basil and chopped tarragon (I have a helluva time finding fresh tarragon, so have substituted 2 teaspoons of dried; if you really can’t find fresh basil, substitute 4 teaspoons of dried)
    1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning the arugula
    4 cups arugula, thick stems discarded, chilled until ready to serve


    Directions
    In a large bowl, whisk 8 cups of water with the sorghum syrup and 2 tablespoons of salt. Add the chicken, cover, and refrigerate overnight.


    Drain the chicken and wipe out the bowl. In that same bowl, toss the chicken with ½ cup of the olive oil, the vinegar, garlic, chopped herbs, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, massaging the mix once or twice to get the garlic and herbs well distributed.


    If you’ll be using a grill, light the grill and set to moderate heat. Do not oil the grate, as the chicken is already covered in oil. Grill the chicken thighs over moderate heat, turning, until lightly charred and cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes.

    If you’ll be using your oven’s broiler, preheat the broiler and line the broiler pan with foil. Using a rack insert to the pan or not – I’ve done both – broil the chicken, starting with the skin side down, turning once or twice, for a total of 10-12 minutes per side. (Slightly longer if your thighs – that is, your chicken thighs – are especially meaty.) Internal temperature when done should be 170-175°.

    With either method, transfer the cooked chicken to a large plate and let it rest for 5 minutes while you grill the peaches. Remove the peaches from the brine and reserve the pickling liquid.

    Grill the peaches over moderate heat (or under the broiler), turning once, until lightly charred, 5-6 minutes. Transfer peaches to a plate.

    In a bowl, toss the arugula with 1 tablespoon of the peach pickling liquid and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Arrange the salad, chicken and grilled peaches on a platter and serve.



    Hope you had a great Labor Day weekend!