Sunday, August 28, 2011

World Peace Cookies

Might be the stupidest name for cookies EVER.

Fortunately they are also known as sablés.  Which is still fairly pretentious. But these cookies are good enough to stand up to any name in any language. That must be why about a million other food bloggers have already written about them.

I checked out a book from the library a few months ago whose author I had never heard of. Her name is Dorie Greenspan. I know. Anyway. In the book she tells the story of how her recipe for these cookies was served to her at a swanky party, only the host had no idea it was Greenspan's recipe. Even though it is really some French guy named Pierre Hermés I also hadn't heard of's recipe. I know. But up until this point in the story they are still called sablés and then some other guy told Greenspan that a daily helping of these cookies could ensure world peace, and now they are Stupidest Name Ever cookies. 

I googled the recipe after I'd returned the book to the library and forgotten to photocopy the recipe (copy pages out of a book? who does that?), and discovered that not only had every food blogger and her grandmother written about them, but there exists this exclusive food blogger club of sorts that picks a different recipe each week from that same cookbook of Greenspan's. Then they all make the recipe. Then on Tuesdays, they all write about it on their blogs. It's called Tuesdays with Dorie. Kind of like Tuesdays with Morrie. Except nobody dies. 

Even though I don't get to join the club (membership for this book is closed; I'll scurry to join when her next book comes out) or put that cute little button on my site which demonstrates affiliation with the club (I am SO envious), I am going to blog blog blog about these cookies anyway. Since discovering the recipe, I haven't made any other cookie. Nor do I want to. Ever. They are ridiculously easy to make. The batter can be frozen and popped into the oven whenever unexpected guests arrive, which of course happens to me all the time. The frozen ones are equally as delicious as the not-frozen ones. When does that happen?

Try sprinkling extra salt on top before you bake these cookies. I like Maldon flaky sea salt, but use your favorite.

World Peace Cookies
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours, who took it from Pierre Hermés

1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
1/3 C cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
11 TBSP butter, at room temperature
2/3 C brown sugar
1/4 C granulated sugar
1/2 tsp fleur de sel
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chunks
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling on top

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda. Set aside. 
3. Beat butter until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add sugars, vanilla, and salt. Beat for another minute or two. 
3. Add sifted flour mix to butter mix, being careful not to make a mess (Greenspan advises using a towel to cover the stand mixer bowl when you first add the flour, but I haven't had to do this). Mix until just incorporated. Add chocolate chunks and stir to combine. 
4. Shape dough into two round logs. Wrap in parchment or waxed paper and refrigerate for 3 hours. (At this point you can freeze one of the logs for future baking, if you want.)
NOW you can preheat the oven to 325 degrees!
5. Slice into thin cookies (approximately 1/4" thick) and lay flat on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little flaky sea salt. Bake for 12-15 minutes. They will look nearly the same as when you put them in the oven, but they are done. 
6. Cool a minute or two on the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies will become crisper but should not be brittle. 

Batter will seem a little dry and crumbly.

The emptiness of this cookie jar just might bring on World War III.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Even Oprah Makes Mistakes

I have never eaten proper Southern biscuits. Probably because I have never been south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I might not even recognize the difference between proper biscuits and improper ones. I can't think of any restaurants I go to that serve biscuits, plain or topped with gravy. Nobody I know claims to be a Biscuit Maker Extraordinaire.

Fans of Oprah gave her grief over her biscuit-making scene in "Beloved" many years ago. One woman told her flat out, "You are making your biscuits wrong."  Apparently 'wrong' is relative, though, since there are as many variations on biscuit recipes as there are on, well, everything else.  The elders in my family have passed down several of these recipes that must be made a certain way; anyone who does not make them this way is automatically an idiot.
Or so they say.

The article's author insisted that Northerners can make good biscuits (am I a Northerner? a Westerner? a Californian, which seems to be its own category?), so I decided to see for myself, though I had no intention of drowning perfectly good biscuits in fat-choked sausage gravy. My sweet tooth usually prevails anyway, so I figured maple syrup would drown them just as well as gravy, and I had a hankering for baked beans, which I sort of associate with all things Southern and biscuit-like.

One thing's for sure: biscuits really are easy. I used regular old AP flour and regular old unsalted butter. I used my food processor to cut in nearly frozen butter (Oprah's very vocal fan must be horrified right now) and had dough ready in under 5 minutes. I let it rest for 30 minutes as directed, and got what I think are pretty proper biscuits out of the oven.

I have no idea what Oprah did wrong, but if hers tasted like mine, I bet she didn't care.

They baked up a little lopsided. I suspect uneven heat in the oven is to blame. Whatever. The flavor is fab.

All-Purpose Biscuits
recipe lifted straight out of the New York Times magazine, 7.21.11
serves 6-8

2 C all-purpose flour (plus a little more for dusting)
2 TBSP baking powder
1 TBSP sugar
5 TBSP cold unsalted butter
1 C whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Sift dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Transfer to bowl of food processor. Cut butter into smaller pieces and add to flour mixture, pulsing 5-6 times or until mixture resembles rough crumbs. (You could also cut butter into flour with a fork or pastry cutter.)
3. Return mixture to mixing bowl and add milk. Stir until it forms a rough ball.
4. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface. Pat it down into a rough rectangle, about 1 inch thick. Fold over and gently pat it down again. Repeat once more. Cover dough loosely with a kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes. 
5. Gently pat out dough a bit more to form a rectangle that is approximately 10" x 6". Cut dough into biscuits with a biscuit cutter or floured glass. DO NOT twist cutter when cutting; this crimps the edges of the biscuit and impedes its rise. You can reform the remnants into another rectangle and cut out more, but know that these will be slightly less airy than the first batch. You can also bake the remnants as free-form biscuits with minimal handling (and therefore toughening). 
6. Bake on a cookie sheet until golden brown, approximately 10-15 minutes.
7. Drown in syrup, honey, or molasses.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Meat n' Wheat Free

L to R: yams with skin on, platanos fritos, brown jasmine rice with tomatillo-avocado salsa, black beans with jerk, and dinosaur kale. This is a salad plate, not a dinner plate, and after eating everything on it, I am 100% full!

My friend RSJ is a vegetarian. She is also gluten intolerant. Her husband KJ, a carnivore who likes his ground beef nestled between two rounds of wheat, sums up her dietary needs this way: "So basically, you need a meal that is meat- n-wheat-free." Indeed.

I'm not a vegetarian. I'm not gluten intolerant. I don't spend a lot of time thinking up meals that would suit RSJ's needs, especially since we live in different time zones now. But I do eat a few meatless meals each week and have thrown together un plato of sorts that is inspired by some of my favorite cuisines. Best of all, it is free of meat, wheat, and dairy. You know, the  way the other 99% of the planet eats.

There are those who believe that eating a meal with no meat in it is an utter waste of the energy it takes to bring fork to mouth. To this I say, quinoa-barley-seaweed pilaf doesn't really satisfy me either. But when I create meals that are not vegetarian versions of dishes I love, but instead are just good vegetarian meals, I am almost always satisfied.

The July/August 2011 issue of Vegetarian Times features an article on the best veg food trucks across the nation. The mention of one truck's coconut-mashed yams caught my attention, since I firmly believe that everything is better with coconut. Then the plantains ripening on the counter popped into my head. The free association-- I do this a lot when I am cooking-- continued with the jerk seasoning I haven't put on chicken yet, the black beans waiting in the pantry, greens in the crisper, and cilantro growing on the fire escape to go in the rice I wanted to put next to the black beans. (Yeah, I've heard that you don't have to eat these two together to make a complete protein, but I still like the combination.)

The prep and cooking time for this plate is super-fast, making it a good choice for I-got-home-from-work-late-and-I-don't-feel-like-cooking nights. Of course, if you choose to use dried beans and begin soaking them the night before and spend two hours cooking them when you get home from work late, well, hopefully you will earn some kind of Universe Points for your effort. For the rest of us, the beans, rice, plantains, greens, and yams are ready in under 20 minutes.

There are endless variations on this plate. The first time I made it, I added a little pineapple to the rice, along with cilantro. The second time I made it, I added tomatoes to the beans, used only about a milligram of cilantro, and didn't mash the yams. Or add coconut. But in all its incarnations, it is meat-n-wheat-free.

Not pictured: all the other maduros I ate that night.