Alfajores.

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For a number of years now, I’ve had this mental list of places I want to travel to. Italy again. New Zealand. Thailand. Africa. Morocco. Turkey. The list goes on and on and on. It’s hard to imagine ever getting to all of those places, what with the simple fact that we, you know, work and all. But I figure we can take it slow – knock off a big one every couple of years or so, presuming we have years and years and years to finish the list.

There are about 500 places in South America I want to visit, too. Argentina is at the top of that “mini-list”. Their food is pretty spectacular, their wines are great and getting better by the year, and the scenery is breathtaking. But since we aren’t getting to Argentina this year, cooking food from Argentina seemed like a good alternative.

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We do this cookie swap at work every Christmas. It makes our quarterly meetings a little more bearable because we all know that loads of sugar are the reward. Some people take them home to share, but I (ssshhh!!) actually leave mine at work with the same thought in mind – a cookie is a really nice reward for making it through a rough day, or maybe even just a really annoying patient. (Yes, there are annoying patients. I hope you aren’t one of them.)

So I made these Argentinian (Argentine? whatever.) sandwich cookies this past year. They involve a few steps, but the beauty of those steps is that they don’t have to all be done at once. I made the cookie dough one day. I baked the cookies a couple of days later. And the night before the swap, I filled and coated them. Easy peasy.

The best part? It made a TON of cookies. So instead of having a thousand more cookies at home, I took some to my work, gave Chris some to take to his work, and I froze the rest.

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Which brings me to the Argentinian feast I mentioned in the last food post. Yes, the one I wrote about 10,000 years ago.  I was trying to figure out what to make for dessert and had literally forgotten about the cookies I’d frozen not even 2 weeks before. I started googling South American dessert ideas and of course, alfajores was at the top of the search. Funny, I had some of those in the freezer. So the rest of these cookies came out for dessert that night, all consumed between champagne, moonshine cocktails (thanks, Judy, for trying to kill us but not succeeding), and – check this out – a little Rock Band. It was a good night indeed.

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Alfajores (chocolate-covered sandwich cookies with dulce de leche)
from Fine Cooking Cookies via Serious Eats; makes ~30 sandwich cookies

time commitment: ~2 hours + time to chill overnight (i.e., make these a day before you need them)

printable version

ingredients
12 oz (2 2/3 c) all-purpose flour; more for rolling
6 oz (1 1/3 c) whole-wheat flour
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 lb unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 t finely grated orange zest
2 cans Nestlé dulce de leche (13.4 ounces each)
1 lb bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 pint heavy cream

instructions
Make the cookies: In a medium bowl, whisk both flours with the baking powder and salt. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the orange zest and vanilla. Scrape down the bowl and paddle with a rubber spatula.

With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. After adding the last of the flour but before it’s fully incorporated, add 1/4 to 1/3 cup cold water and mix just until a smooth dough forms, 1 to 2 minutes. Divide the dough, shape into two disks, and wrap each in plastic. Chill overnight (or for a couple of days if you need to!).

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Roll out the cold dough on a lightly floured surface until it’s 1/8 to 3/16 inch thick. With a 2-inch plain or fluted round cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds—you can gather and reroll the scraps once.

Bake one sheet at a time until the edges are very lightly browned and the cookies puff up slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on a rack and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month, until you’re ready to fill and coat them.

Fill the cookies: Lay out the cookies, flat side down. Put a heaping 1/2 tablespoon of the dulce de leche on half of the cookies. Cover each with a top cookie, flat side up.

Coat the cookies: Put the chocolate in a small, deep, heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream just to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir the mixture very gently, incorporating the cream steadily and without overworking, until glossy and completely mixed.

Line two cookie sheets or rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Pick up a sandwich cookie with a small offset spatula. Immerse in the chocolate mixture, flipping the cookie to coat completely. Pick up with the spatula and tap a couple of times on the side of the bowl to get rid of excess chocolate. With another spatula in the opposite hand, gently smooth out the top of the cookie and then run the spatula along the bottom. Transfer to the parchment-lined sheet. Repeat with the remaining cookies. Allow the coating to set at room temperature for a few hours and then serve.

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Special, For Sure

So, I have a confession. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s not something I’d want people to remember me by. But it’s something that you should know about me, regardless.

I sort of have a sort-of addiction to reality TV. But I’ve come a long way, really I have.

I used to watch The Apprentice, Dancing with the Stars, Real World,  The Amazing Race, Chopped, The Next Food Network Star, and pretty much anything on MTV and Food Network. Oh yeah, and The Bachelor/Bachelorette. Thanks for reminding me of that one, Caroline!

Now, I only watch Survivor and Top Chef. Well, and The Next Iron Chef. Duh. Yes, just three! Somehow, my ultra-long list of guilty pleasures was whittled down to just three lil’ ol’ shows. I consider myself fortunate, because I never got into the Real Housewives of Blank or the Extreme Makeovers or the Biggest Losers or the Kardashians or whoever the famous rich people shows are about these days. Heck, I only watched 1 little season of American Idol. And I could care less about The Voice because I don’t like any of the hosts. So….. maybe I’m not that addicted, after all?

Frankly, I could cut out Survivor, but Chris would just die. We’ve watched it for. so. long. that we just can’t stop now!, he says. And truthfully, there is always someone to laugh at, although this season I’m almost embarrassed to be a girl since these chicks can’t seem to get it together. But whatever.

But I can’t not watch Top Chef. Yes, sometimes it’s a train wreck. Yes, sometimes I wonder how certain people even make it to being on the show. And yes, I’d just love to see what happens when the cameras aren’t rolling on those judges because I swear they are three sheets to the wind every night. But I do look forward to it every week, and sadly the last season just wrapped up, so I’m Top Chef-less for a bit.

Ed Lee was one of my favorites this season. I think he made it to the final 5 before he got the boot, although I’d expected him to be in the top 3. I do think the final 2 were the ones who deserved to be there, but even so, Ed was always a favorite of mine and for good reason – he effortlessly combined Asian and Southern comfort food – my favorite cuisines. What’s not to love?

Anyway, Ed already gets plenty of media attention, because he’s awesome, so I’m sure that not winning Top Chef won’t hold him back in the slightest. A while back, he was featured in Food & Wine, and he shared a recipe for these corn griddle cakes that I could not stop thinking about. And since we aren’t usually up and cooking breakfast on the weekends, I didn’t want to wait until we had company to try them, so instead we just had them for dinner one night, and I froze the rest so I could have them on a special morning when we’re out of cereal and oatmeal.

The griddle cakes are so freakin’ tasty that I could probably eat them straight outta the freezer (well, with a little zapping…), but the orange-honey butter adds a perfect element of sweetness, reminding you that these aren’t just everyday breakfast cakes. They’re special, for sure.

Other cornmeal-containing lovelies:

Zucchini Cornbread (aka why my butt’s so big. go ahead, read the story..)
Hushpuppies (these didn’t help, either)
Cornmeal-Blueberry Cookies
Rhubarb-Cornmeal Tarts
Andouille & Sweet Potato Pie

Corn Griddle Cakes with Sausage and Orange-Honey Butter
adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2012; serves 8

time commitment: 1 hour

printable version

ingredients
orange-honey butter
6 T unsalted butter
1/2 c honey
1 1/2 T finely grated orange zest
salt and pepper

corn cakes
6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cooking spray, or olive/grapeseed oil
3/4 c(about 7 ounces) breakfast sausage, casings removed
1 1/2 c fresh (or frozen, thawed) corn kernels
1 c yellow cornmeal
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 T sugar
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly cracked black peppercorns
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/4 c buttermilk
2 large eggs
6 scallions, chopped

instructions
orange-honey butter
Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk in honey and orange zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.

corn cakes
Cook sausage in a 10-12″ cast-iron skillet or other large heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat, breaking up into small pieces with the back of a spoon, until browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a small bowl. Add corn to same skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until browned, 5–6 minutes. Transfer corn to bowl with sausage and let cool.

Whisk cornmeal and next 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk and eggs in a large bowl; add dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Fold in sausage, corn, and scallions.

Heat 1 T butter (or oil or spray) in skillet; working in batches and adding butter as needed between batches, add batter to pan by tablespoonfuls. Cook until cakes are crisp and golden brown, 2–3 minutes. Turn cakes over and cook until browned, 1–2 minutes longer. Transfer cakes to paper towels to drain. Serve warm drizzled with orange-honey butter.

Survival of the Fittest

The day I was born, my dad near about had a heart attack, or at least that’s the story. My parents are both fair-skinned and light-haired. Although technically, my mom truly does have dark roots but you don’t really notice them because she still gets her hair “frosted”. Last time I checked, that’s a pretty common ‘do for her age group. Anyway, I came into the world writhing and crying, full of life and all that good stuff. But I also came out with something that really threw my dad for a loop – I had a head FULL of nearly black hair. WTF?

I would have been confused too.

Anyway, clearly there are no paternity issues. Just like most of us, I recognize that I have some traits from my mom, and some traits from my dad. Some are good, like my big brains, blue eyes, and relatively normally shaped symmetrical head, and some are downright nasty, like my cankles, my big knees, and über mushy upper arms. I mean seriously – you’d think there would have been a selective advantage against such atrocities, but as it turns out cankles and big knees are all kinds of sturdy, so I guess that’s a good thing. The fat arms? Well, I suppose in the event that I’m stranded in Antarctica, it would take me a little bit longer to use up my own mush before I start gnawing on the arms of my friends.

Aside from all that loveliness, I try not to complain too much. Sure, I have a hard time finding boots that zip up over my cankles and ginormous calves (that I’m pretending are all muscle; laugh it up, Simpson!), but all in all I’d say things could be much worse. Yeah, I am as close to legally blind as you can get (dramatic, much?), but that’s nothing a pair of contacts and ultra thick glasses can’t fix.

Then you get the traits that are sorta ‘give or take’. I don’t mind having thinnish hair because it dries quicker. I don’t mind being short because I can make people do stuff for me with a quickness, and it’s always easier to take in length on pants than to let it out. I don’t mind having boobs because at least I didn’t have to stuff my bra when I was 14. Plus, boys generally like boobs. So I guess that’s good.

And then there’s the butt. Hoo boy. Again, there definitely is no denying my true lineage, but I swear there has to be some African American ancestry somewhere in one of my family trees. I guess it’s not impossible, being Southern and all… Because this is the truth: I have a little bit more rhythm than a lot of white folk (and I mean a little bit more…. I am no Beyonce for sure). I have slightly fuller lips (at least the bottom one) than a lot of white folk. Last but certainly not least, I have a ginormous ass for a white chick. It’s not proportional. It’s not right, and I have no idea where it comes from. It’s just not natural.

Here’s where the story gets funny. Because of said unnaturally large ass, I seemed to get harassed by the vast majority of black boys in my school. Maybe it was stylish for a regular looking white girl to wear such an unusually large backside, or maybe there’s some other reason why black boys (and a handful of white boys) like girls with junk in the trunk. Who knows. Either way, I remember one specific group of guys in high school who taunted me almost daily. How rude, right?! But I remembered it, not because of the fact that it was nearly daily, but because of what they said to me every. single. time.

“Girl, you be eatin’ all your cornbread!”

And with that, friends, I have embarrassed myself in front of the whole internets (but only slightly), and! I have given you a great recipe for cornbread. I won’t lie – I do fancy a piece of cornmeal-laden bread every now and then, but it’s not like I ate it all the time as a kid. I’m gonna chalk it up to science, and swear there’s some genetic influence quite a few generations back. Selective advantage? I won’t even try to answer that…

Zucchini Cornbread
adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2011; makes 1 loaf 

this is a really good cornbread recipe, so let’s start with that. it’s not moist, so don’t expect a texture like banana and pumpkin breads. it’s drier, but it’s buttery (with browned butter – yum!) and has just enough sugar to provide a little sweetness, too. You don’t notice the zucchini much, but at least you’re getting veggies, if only a little dab! and to be honest, this is NOT the way Southern cornbread tastes. Southern cornbread is not as sweet, and maybe even a little more dry, a bit heftier. either way, it’s a great side item to a stew, or perhaps Thanksgiving? I ate it as a late-night snack this week, but that could lead to ill effects, as we’ve already discussed…

time commitment: 3 hours (includes cooking + cooling time; only about 30 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c skim milk
1 large zucchini (about 10 ounces)
1 c spelt flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c sugar
1 t baking powder
3/4 t kosher salt
1/2 t baking soda
3/4 c medium-grind cornmeal

instructions
Position a rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350 F. Spray or butter a bread pan.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until butter solids at bottom of pan turn golden brown, about 3 minutes. Scrape butter into a medium bowl. Set aside and let cool. Whisk in eggs and milk.

Peel and coarsely grate zucchini. Add to bowl with butter mixture and stir until well blended.

Whisk together both flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a large bowl. Whisk in cornmeal. Add zucchini mixture; fold just to blend (mixture will be very thick). Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top.

Bake bread until golden and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 55 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan; let cool completely on a wire rack. For best flavor, make a day in advance.

Enough To Make You Nuts

Since the grocery store trips were off-limits this week, the cooking has been a bit scarce. Last night, I had a bowl of cereal for dinner. The night before, Judy and I attended a GrubWithUs dinner at a weird restaurant. Tonight, I’m polishing off a hearty TV dinner, and I might dig into a couple of bites of that ice cream from way back when. Yeah, I know, I can’t believe it’s still there either – let’s just say I’m making each and every bite count. (Update – yeah, that happened. And now the ice cream is kaput.)

But when a coworker brought in a bag of zucchini, despite the scarcity of food that caused me to resort to the microwave, I had dessert on the brain instead.

It’s normal to think of dessert when you have zucchini in your hands, isn’t it? Sure, zucchini fries are great, too, and so is plain ol’ raw zucchini with cheese, but let’s be honest – dessert is never a bad idea (except with okra, as evidenced by the Iron Chef America I just watched). My buddy Jennifer makes a killer gluten-free zucchini bread, and since we’re over half a country away from her now, I don’t get to partake in it. Quite honestly, it’s almost enough to make us move back – but not quite. I’m afraid I’ve already gotten too accustomed to the warmish weather and would freak in five minutes of Chicago summer humidity, and one minute on a February day (plus, we’re seeing them again in 14 days!).

When I volunteered to take a couple of green tubers (are zucchini tubers?!) from work earlier this week, I had two potential recipes in my mind. One is a zucchini cornbread I’ve had stashed away in a pile of recipe clippings for a while now, and while I do love my cornbread (there’s a story behind that), I didn’t see the sense in making it to eat with cereal. I prefer cornbread alongside fried chicken, or something that I can dip it in, and milk just doesn’t appeal. The other recipe was a breakfast/dessert quick bread thing – what you see here. I saw it on Tara’s site a couple of weeks ago (the same site that reminded me of the chocolate ice cream – a theme, perhaps?), and that, I thought, was perfect for two reasons. One, I could take a loaf to work the next day as a payback for free zucchini, and two, it made two loaves (quick bread recipes always do, don’t they?!) which meant the other got frozen, with the thought that it’ll come in handy next weekend when our guests are in town.

The downside to making rich, chocolatey zucchini bread at 10 PM? It keeps you up at night – you smell it cooking for the almost-hour, and when it comes out, you still can’t eat it because it has to cool. And by that point, it’s bedtime and your teeth are brushed (although that usually doesn’t stop me…). Of course, there’s also the ‘I already mentioned I was making this yesterday so I can’t eat it because I’ll feel guilty at work all day’ thing too. Then, the fact that you’ve filled up your tiny house with the smell of the stuff, so much so that it wafts into your room and into your face, even when it’s buried underneath the covers and your cat is sitting on your head, is enough to make you nuts.

Of course, most of us aren’t that dramatic, are we?

ps – we’re off to Sedona for a few days. I’ll be taking a tiny blog break, and when I’m back, I’m planning to cut back to weekly posts. We’ll see how it goes, but this twice-a-week thing is getting hard. BUT! I think it’s time for a meat-heavy recipe, so I’ll work on that over the next little while too. Sound good? Thanks. Now, go eat some zucchini ;). 

 

Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Bread
Adapted, barely, from Seven Spoons; makes 2 loaves

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (25 minutes active, 50 minutes baking time)

this is a relatively straightforward quick bread, which means you essentially mix the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry in another, then you combine. you don’t need a mixer or anything fancy, either. i’m guessing these would make great muffins as well, just that they’d obviously cook a lot less. as for the zucchini, since it’s a rather wet veggie, it’s not a bad idea to squeeze a little of the moisture into a towel, once shredded – don’t wring it out or anything crazy, but just a gentle squeeze or two will do ya fine.

printable version

ingredients
Softened butter or cooking spray, for pans
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c white spelt flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/2 c cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 t salt
1 c chopped walnuts, toasted
8 oz semisweet chocolate chips (it’s ok if you eat a few…)
1/2 c olive oil
1 c well-shaken buttermilk
2 eggs
1 1/2 c turbinado sugar
2 t vanilla extract
4 c shredded zucchini (2 regular zucchini measure about 3.5 c, which is what I used)

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lubricate two 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pans with softened butter or spray. Use a length of parchment to line the bottom and long sides of the pan, forming a sling, and lightly butter/spray the parchment as well. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the chopped walnuts and chocolate. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil and buttermilk. Add the eggs, sugar and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Stir in the zucchini.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stir until combined, taking care not over mix (you want to mix until the flour dissolves into the wet dough, but no further). Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake, rotating once, until a cake tester inserted into the loaf comes out almost clean, which should be around 45-50 minutes. Cool loaves in their pans on a rack for 20 minutes, then grasp the edges of the parchment to ease the bread out.

Cobbled Together

In an effort to avoid the grocery store this weekend, I raided the heck out of our pantry to see what we could eat to get through the week. You see, I already have an issue with letting good food go to waste, and this is only intensified when I’m forced to let things go to waste as a result of being away for a few days. These are the times when I might cobble together a recipe with a ton of random ingredients (panzanella salads are great when there’s lots of produce involved, and this Moroccan shepherd’s pie was a great way to use up mashed ‘taters) or conversely, I might make something uber simple using some standby grains or pasta.

In general, they aren’t meals that really make one salivate, but they get the job done, more or less.

Of course, there are always the exceptions – the dishes you toss together, pulling stray carrots and a forgotten bunch of scallions from the crisper to add up to enough stuff to make a meal come together – that somehow end up tasting like you’d planned it that way all along. It helps when you have a few fresh ingredients hanging around (thanks, Joanne, for the tomatoes!), because those are the ones that provide the inspiration, the kick-start to power you through to the end of the recipe, if you even have a recipe in the first place.

(The fresh ingredients are also the ones that make me feel a little less guilty about tossing leftover bagged shredded cheese into a perfect biscuit dough, knowing full-well that a freshly-grated cup of cheddar would have been tons better, not only in terms of taste, but also quality and texture.)

So, here we are, at the moment where I did something like that and actually get to tell you about it, because I truly feel that this new-found recipe is something you just might want to make yourself. I take that back – it’s something you should make yourself. Rarely is there a time in the year where the produce is this perfect, this satisfying, and this accessible than now – when you get to eat fresh corn and! fresh tomatoes ’til your heart’s content. And I’m telling you this: if you do have access to both ingredients, straight from the market or the store, please do purchase them. I think I already mentioned my stubborn desire to avoid those places this week, and as a result my trusty freezer bag o’ corn came in handy here. And while it was fine, mighty fine indeed, I know it could be that. much. better. with just-shucked morsels of yellow goodness.

If the mixture of tomatoes and corn isn’t enough to get you in a tizzy, have you noticed the biscuits on top? Need I say more?! Even though I’ve moved away, I still read the blogs of many Chicagoans, and I tell ya – Midwesterners get some kinda excited about summer produce. Tim over at Lottie + Doof posted a tomato cobbler recipe from Martha Stewart a couple of weeks ago, and it sounded like the kind of food they’d have in Paradise. I figured I could make it work, or something like it, even if I didn’t have but approximately half as many tomatoes, no regular onions, heavy cream, or Gruyere on hand, not to mention a penchant for never adhering to the regular ol’ all-purpose flour suggested in most recipes.

So yeah, you could say this recipe is a pretty far leap from the original, but that’s what happens from time to time. You may not have scallions on hand, and maybe you have a different cheese, or no cheese at all, and maybe you have neither pancetta nor bacon for the smoky twist I was craving. Maybe the carrots aren’t doing it for you, and understandably so, maybe you don’t have 10 types of flour in your pantry (15-20 if you count the ones used almost solely for gluten-free cooking). You might even be one of those people who are afraid of a little shortening in your life, for reasons I just can’t figure out. I promise you – it’s okay, and ultimately, it might even be better to use this as your inspiration, and run with it (after, or course, you put down your knife…).

I’m sure Martha would understand.

Tomato & Corn Cobbler
Inspired by Lottie + Doof; serves 4-6 as a meal

time commitment: 2 hours (~40 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
filling
2 T evoo
2 oz finely chopped pancetta or bacon (optional)
6 scallions, chopped
2 carrots, medium dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 c fresh or frozen corn (2-3 ears if fresh; thawed and drained if frozen)
~1 lb cherry tomatoes
~1 lb heirloom tomatoes, medium dice
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
3 T white spelt flour (or all-purpose)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

biscuit topping
1 c white spelt flour
1 c whole wheat flour (or use 2 cups all-purpose flour to replace both)
2 t baking powder
1 t kosher salt
4 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T shortening, cut into small pieces
1 c grated cheddar cheese, plus 1 T, for sprinkling atop biscuits
1 1/2 c buttermilk, plus ~2 T more for brushing

instructions
Make the filling. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta, if using, and cook for 2 minutes, then add onions and carrots, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Toss in corn and remove from heat; let cool.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Toss onion/corn mixture, tomatoes, red-pepper flakes and flour with 1 1/2 t salt and some pepper.

Make the biscuit topping. Whisk together flours, baking powder, and 1 t salt in a bowl. Cut in butter and shortening with a pastry cutter or rub in with your fingers until small clumps form. Stir in cheese, then add buttermilk, stirring with a fork to combine until dough forms.

Transfer tomato mixture to a 2-quart baking dish. Spoon large clumps of biscuit dough (about 1/3 c each) over top in a circle, leaving center open. Bake 30 minutes. Remove, and brush dough with buttermilk, and sprinkle with remaining T cheese. Bake until tomatoes are bubbling in the center and biscuits are golden brown, another 30 minutes or so. Transfer to a wire rack. Let cool for 20 minutes.

One Hit Wonder

I generally consider myself a one-stop shopper. I don’t mind running a couple of errands at a time, but in the same vein, I like for each errand to really pack a punch, so to speak.

I stopped shopping at Dominicks and started buying all my grocery items at Whole Foods for this very reason – I got tired of buying pantry items at one place, and meat/produce at the other, so one day I just sucked it up and decided that my grocery bill would just have to be a little higher each month, but in the end, the time saved would be worth it.

I’m also a huge fan of meals that don’t involve side items – the “one potters”, I think they’re called. Stews, chilis, the shunned casseroles – they all fall into this category. Often times I find myself making a killer chicken dish, or steak, or whatever really, and it’s just that – no side, no soup, no nothing but the one. little. dish.

But that one little dish took a while, and it tasted damn good. So what if there’s no side item? This ain’t no 4-star restaurant, last time I checked.

But in lieu of having a side dish, or a first course, or a dessert, and just having one little item, one’s stomach is usually growling within a couple of hours. I find this most problematic with soup; I love nothing more than a nice bowl of soup on a cold day or night, but I want something to chew on too, aside from the occasional veggie in the pool. If my life depended on it, I still probably couldn’t eat a lone bowl of soup without a cracker or two, a mini-baguette (or two), some croutons tossed in for good measure or, if all is the way I want it to be – a few breadsticks.

They (said breadsticks) typically come in crinkly plastic packages; they’re crunchy and somewhat messy, leaving remnants of sea salt on the tablecloth, not to mention a few crumbs at the mouth and flecks in the soup – stone cold evidence of dunking, which is the best way to eat them, I promise.

But these here, these come not in packages, but by way of a little mixing and a wee bit of kneading, rising, and rolling. Then baking, of course, but they get only a brief stint in the oven. They are perfect for just about any soup or stew and can be modified to your liking – I was in the mood for rosemary and nutty flavor offered by the flour of the whole wheat persuasion, but you could easily go for the all purpose, or swap in another flour or spice.

No matter how you craft your breadsticks, er, grissini, they roll out just the same – and they make those one-hit soups a little more substantial, that’s for sure.

Rosemary Grissini
Adapted from Food & Wine, October 2010; makes 3 dozen

time commitment: 2 hours, half of it active time

printable version

ingredients
3/4 c water
1 c all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 c whole-wheat flour
1 T honey
1 package active dry yeast
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 t dried rosemary, finely chopped
1 T kosher salt

instructions
In a large bowl, stir the water with 1/2 cup of the flour (either one), the honey and the yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour, the olive oil, rosemary and salt and knead until a smooth dough forms. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper (if you don’t have three and instead, you’re like me and you have 1, just do this one at a time). Punch down the dough and cut it into 4 equal pieces. On a floured work surface, roll out each piece of dough to a 6-by-10-inch rectangle. Cut the rectangles lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Arrange the strips on the prepared sheets. Let stand until puffed, about 15 minutes.

Bake the grissini for about 15 minutes, until golden brown; switch the pans halfway through baking. Let the grissini cool and crisp on the baking sheet before serving.

Grissini can be made in advance by a couple of days and stored in an airtight container. The unbaked dough can also be frozen and thawed when ready for use.

Crêpe Master

I consider myself a pretty decent cook. Alright, a good cook. I’m not sure how much of what I know was learned in culinary school versus by experimentation and reading many a food magazine and book, but nonetheless, I feel pretty comfortable making most things.

Su-prem-ing? I’ve got that in the bag. Homemade pumpernickel? Hells yeah. Even gorgeous marshmallows, which are soft and pillowy and not hard on the outside like the ones from the store.

Crêpes? They scare(d) the bejeezuz out of me. You see, in culinary school we were forced to make certain “must-knows”, and crêpes were one of them. That’s what I get for having a French instructor right? Fortunately, it was only a few miserable hours of my precious time, and after a few duds and torn pieces of what would have been a crêpe had I pieced it together,  I was able to move on to the next task, tail between legs. I decided then and there that I would never make crêpes at my B&B (yes, the one waiting for me in Napa….), no matter how soft and buttery and downright lovely they are. Those guests best like their waffles and poached eggs, that’s all I gots to say!

I’d finally gotten over my inability to crêpe (I think I made that up…), and then I sous chefed for my now super preggers friend Caroline a couple of months back and watched her bust out crêpes for 8. Needless to say, I was jealous, but inspired. And when figuring out what French-inspired dessert to make for the bouillabaise-slash-Rockband-failure party (also referred to as the lots-of-wine-between-four-people-in-five-hours party), I knew I had to master the crêpe, or go down trying. And what better way than after a few bottles of wine? Plus, it was either that or the soufflé, and my soufflé record was also 0 for 1.

Fear no more, friends! Turns out crêpes are not only easy, but fun to make once you’ve got the technique down pat. And did I mention how perfect they are with homemade nutella and bananas? {Secretly, I was simply dying to make nutella and besides a lone spoon, there isn’t any better way to serve it than with crêpes, non?} Turns out all you need is batter of the perfect consistency, a small amount of it at a time, and a non-stick skillet. Hence, I now blame my crêpe faux pas on the crappy school skillets, or perhaps my inability to procure one of the good ones.

I might also add, while I’m confessing here, that I was so confident in my crêping (made up again?) skillz I bragged to Caroline a couple of weeks ago during another of my sous chef appearances and in effect, got to try my hand at ’em again.  This just in: they’re even easier sober, and I’ve officially deemed myself a real-deal crêpe masta!

Next up, the macaron, and maybe one day, another soufflé. But don’t hold your breath for that one….


ps – thanks to my friend, Katherine, host of the bouillabaise-Rockband-fail party, for the lovely crêpe pictures!

What’s your favorite type of crêpe?

Whole Wheat Crêpes w/ Nutella & Bananas
makes at least 8 crêpes with plenty of leftover nutella

i’m not gonna lie here – this is a must-make and totally worth the work, which isn’t much. the crêpe batter can be made well in advance, and the nutella truly comes together in minutes once you shell the hazelnuts (which I bet you can buy toasted and shelled) and is far better than the over-processed stuff from the store. it’s creamy, rich, and my one stray from traditional adds a hint of coconut. also – made with natural sugars, and you can adjust the consistency of the final product to your liking by adding water or more agave nectar. make this.

printable version (full recipe)

ingredients
1 recipe whole-wheat crêpes (below)
1 recipe homemade nutella (below)
2-3 bananas, sliced

instructions
make nutella and crêpes. spread nutella (however much you want) over crêpe and load with sliced bananas. fold up and chow down :).

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Homemade Nutella
makes ~1 1/2 cups

leftovers go great anywhere – on a spoon, on an english muffin, with fruit, whatevs. store in fridge.

printable version (nutella only)

ingredients
2 c hazelnuts
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t coconut extract, optional
1/2 c agave nectar
1/4 c powdered sugar
1/4 c water
1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
pinch of salt

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. spread hazelnuts evenly onto baking sheet. bake ~7 minutes, or until fragrant. remove and immediately wrap in kitchen towel (allowing steam to further remove shells). after about 10 minutes, rub towel vigorously to remove remaining shells (this method should get most of them off, but you may have to go in and rub again!). put shelled hazelnuts in food processor and process until a coarse, pasty consistency. Add remaining ingredients and mix until smooth chocolatey consistency. if chunky, add water by the tablespoon until desired texture.

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Whole-Wheat Crêpes
makes at least 8

printable version (crêpes only)

ingredients
2 eggs
pinch of salt
3 T sugar
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c milk
butter, room temp
water, if needed

instructions
whisk eggs in medium sized bowl. add salt through milk and mix until smooth; will appear “runny” (we ain’t makin’ pancakes here, we want thin). if not using immediately, refrigerate, but let sit out at room temperature for about 30 minutes before using.

get a small non-stick skillet and warm it up over medium-hi heat. using your room temp butter, rub it into your pan (if the pan is hot enough, the butter will bubble a little). using a ladle or measuring cup, measure out 1/4 c of batter and place into middle of skillet. pick the skillet up and move the batter around by tilting the skillet in a circular motion so that it covers the bottom of the skillet. let the crêpe cook until the tops are bubbling (1-2 minutes), then use a thin spatula and slowly lift the crepe (since you’re using butter and a non-stick skillet, it should lift super easily). flip crêpe and cook on the other side until browned in some spots. remove and repeat until out of batter!

troubleshooting: if the crêpes are browning to fast, turn the heat down a little. if the crêpes are thicker than you like, put less batter in the skillet, or use a little water to thin out the batter.